While industrial hemp continues to attract considerable interest in a down agricultural economy, Hemp Industry Outlook panelists urged growers at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show in Memphis, Tenn., to use caution in investing in, producing and marketing the crop.
“The biggest thing is to know why you’re growing it, know who you’re growing it for and try to reduce as much risk as possible,” said Aaron Smith, Extension crop marketing specialist with the University of Tennessee. “You’re never going to be able to fully get rid of that risk.
“Try to make sure you understand who you’re doing business with and protect your own interest. I think it’s a great point to say, don’t put more money on the table than you’re willing to lose.”
Samantha Anderson, Extension agent for agricultural and natural resources in McCracken County, Ky., said growers should remember three things:
“Number 1, don’t invest more than you’re willing to lose; number 2, the birth of a new industry isn’t pretty – we can’t expect it to be a smooth ride; number 3, if it sounds too good to be true, it more than likely is.”
Brian Parr, assistant dean of the Hutson School of Agriculture and a hemp researcher at Murray State University, said he echoed Anderson's comments.
“And I would add I think it’s going to be a piece of the solution for some people,” he said. “That’s what the gentleman in the back alluded to a minute ago. I believe this is something that can go into a rotation somewhere, and it can be a way to diversify and another piece to sustainable agriculture. It’s not magic, but it can be a piece.”
Frederick Cawthon, president of the Tennessee Hemp Industries Association and a grower in Gibson County in west Tennessee, said, “there’s safety in numbers. I would invite you all – if you’re not already a member to become a member of the TNHIA.
“We have two regional chapters besides our state chapter in Nashville. The chapter in west Tennessee, which David Riffey serves as president, meets at Jackson State Community College in Jackson, Tenn. We also have an east Tennessee sub-chapter, but we’re looking at expanding across the state to make it more local. It’s the ability to call someone on the farm or go to their farm that can make a difference.”
Anni Self, plant certification administrator with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, said, “We will continue to work with farmers to build this program with as few regulations as possible.”
“My one piece of advice is to make sure you educate your local, state and federal officials, your representatives, about this industry, about this crop,” said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, an organization in Washington, D.C., that has lobbied for the legalization of growing industrial hemp.
“Invite them out to your farm or to your business because we need to educate them. A lot of them don’t understand the challenges we’re facing as an industry. And you should include local law enforcement in that.”
Pete Nelson, president of AgLaunch in Memphis, Tenn., and the moderator of the session said, “We’re definitely in a down economy. Some of the ramping up for this crop is because there’s real desperation to try to figure out a silver bullet.
“I like the balanced approach we’ve had here. There will be opportunities. As to what you can invest in, my list would include teams. And with that, I’d like to go back to SBX Farms. They put the time in to make this work.” (SBX Farms, which is based at the Memphis Agricenter, sponsored the session.)