OK, I think I can start getting excited about hemp now.
I’m still cautious, mind you, because I have a very good memory and a lot of years of experience. I remember Jerusalem artichokes, And sugarbeets. And emus. And ostriches. So, when I hear excitement about the next big thing coming along, my first instinct says, “go slow.”
I still think Kansas farmers planning to plant hemp should have a market in place first, simply because markets aren’t automatic, no matter the promise.
But two big things have happened in the last month that definitely move this crop toward the mainstream.
One, Kansas State University announced that it has a state-licensed laboratory for testing hemp for five of the best-known among more than a hundred cannabinoids in hemp. Farmers can send in their samples and get a report on two of the most important of those: delta-9 HTC, the ingredient in cannabis that is psychoactive, and CBD, the substance that appears to have significant medical benefits.
Both are critically important. Levels of delta-9 HTC above 0.3% makes a product illegal to possess or sell in Kansas and levels of CBD are important to the market value of the crop — higher levels of CBD are worth more money.
The other promising development comes from the mainstream Hemp Inc. and related Hemp University effort out of Oregon, which this month announced that it has refined the ability to make biodegradable plastics from hemp. Remember when his future father-in-law leaned in to Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate” and whispered one word of career advice: plastics?
The promise of a durable to use — yet biodegradable — plastic is beyond big. And it comes at a time when concern about plastic waste is at critical levels. We’re watching whales and dolphins die with bellies full of plastic waste. Imagine having that straw for your soda without guilt because it won’t be in a landfill for a thousand years or end up in the ocean. It’ll just go back to the earth and feed a few microbes, and heck, maybe improve their health.
New Frontier Data released a prediction for major increases in the hemp industry and bioplastics is a big part of the forecast of revenues of $2.6 billion by 2020. Grand View Research says bioplastics are expected to control 5% of the plastics market by 2020 and 40% by 2030. Now that’s growth.
Hemp Inc. CEO Bruce Perlowin, in an appearance on CBS News, said hemp plastics is just one division out of the 25,000 things you can make from hemp, but it’s bigger than all of medical and recreational marijuana put together.
“Why stick with something that's going to level out? It hasn't yet because older people are just now discovering medical marijuana for all their needs. But hemp has a 20- or 30-year curve,” Perlowin said in the interview.
A big part of my reservation about hemp has been there didn’t seem to be a market (outside of CBD) that isn’t already being filled by other products already in use. I haven’t heard of a big demand for more rope. Or more paper. And taking markets away from established products can be a very slow-growth process. Having thousands of farmers jump into growing hemp would likely produce a glut that would drive prices into the toilet.
However, biodegradable plastic would be a product in high demand, and if it could come in at a competitive price point, that market share growth could well happen. That’s something I can get excited about.