CAP reforms can boost EU hemp farmers, but who’ll get the money?

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If the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) is successful in its efforts to raise the allowable THC level in hemp crops from 0.2% to 0.3% in upcoming revisions to the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), the continent’s farmers would gain several advantages.

CAP provides subsidies and support programs for EU agriculture operations, giving farmers direct payments and price supports. With the Policy currently being updated for the period 2021-2027, it’s a great opportunity to advance hemp interests under reformed rules.

More varieties

With the existing 0.2% restraint on THC levels, only about 60 varieties of hemp are approved for planting in the EU. If that level is raised to the globally prevalent 0.3% limit, the number of varieties available to EU farmers would grow to more than 500. That would provide broad flexibility to agriculture operators, offering them hemp strains that are more resistant to disease, have more robust fibers, and require shorter harvest intervals.

At the same time, it would help to overcome problems related to plant genetic diversity (PDG) as hemp strains now grown in Europe are the result of a long cross-breeding process aimed at constraining THC to 0.2%; this considerably undermines the genetic heritage and strength of the plants.

Carbon capture payments

Farmers also could gain on one of hemp’s key characteristics: Its ability to capture carbon, which could trigger greater subsidies under a reformed CAP program. While hemp gets scant mention in EU CAP discussions, some ministers have called generally for carbon capture incentives to be included in the 2021-2027 policy reforms. That means a big opportunity, as hemp stands tall when compared to low carbon-sequestering crops and those grown in massive grow tunnels which have extra carbon introduced into their atmosphere to boost growth cycles.

Profitable large corporations could use CAP funding to offset R&D into things such as soil remediation on lands saturated with heavy metals and other pollutants. These “dirty” crops could then be used as carbides or similar for energy storage thus continually reducing our carbon footprint for many years to come.

Who gets the money?

But while the potential for support based on carbon capture is great, there is an anomaly in CAP that also needs to be addressed: Who gets the money. For example, in the UK, at least one in five of the top 100 CAP recipients are farms owned or run by aristocratic families, according to a study carried out by Greenpeace. These include the Queen (£557,707 – $723,641) and the Duke of Westminster (£437,434 – $567,583).

“Some 16 of the top 100 are owned or controlled by individuals or families who feature on the 2016 Sunday Times rich list, receiving a total of £10.6m ($13.75m) last year in “single payment scheme” subsidies alone, and £13.4m ($17.4) in total farm subsidies (UK), according to the Greenpeace study, which also noted that the top 10% of recipients receive almost half of those payments, which in the UK totals about £3bn ($3.9bn) per year.

As the UK Brexits, that money will be up for grabs among the remaining EU nations. We need a way to assure a good portion of those funds get into the hands of the smaller farmers who populate today’s hemp industry. A fair wage and full institutional support for farmers and innovators is the only way to bring the hemp industry forward.

– Andrew Kelly

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