Tennessee hemp stakeholders hope research will spur investment in fiber

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The Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) and a state hemp group have partnered to support research on the fiber supply chain by the University of Tennessee.

TDA and the Hemp Alliance of Tennessee (HAT) are jointly funding the research, which aims to “assess the likelihood for successful Tennessee-based production and processing for the various major uses of hemp fiber,” HAT said in a press release.

Business indicators

“Our organization and its members are invested in realizing the potential of this plant, and our hope is that this study will prompt significant industry investment in Tennessee hemp and its diverse applications,” said Frederick Cawthon, HAT President.

The project will look at transportation and other supply chain logistics, costs, revenue and potential profits from processing hemp fiber in the state, HAT said of the initiative. The research will take place from now through year’s end.

Boom, then bust

“Tennessee is capable of becoming a leader in this industry if we engage our innovators and the industries that can benefit from the plant – and our legislature continues to help make the right investments in the plant’s myriad applications,” Cawthon said.

Tennessee was among the first states in the U.S. to start a hemp pilot program under provisions in the 2014 Farm Bill. In 2015, 49 licensed producers planted a total of 660 acres of the crop. Upon the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp federally, the numbers grew rapidly to 51,000 acres and 3,957 licensees. But the boom-and-bust of the CBD sector later cooled growers’ plans. By the end of May this year, only 1,041 had been sought to grow hemp on 5,682 acres as producers have turned almost exclusively to fiber, a less lucrative output than the hemp flowers needed for CBD production.

‘Potential to grow’

“This plant has numerous applications, and we believe fiber has the potential to grow Tennessee’s industrial economy,” Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher, said.

Tennessee growers are also required to provide information on their fields and operations with the Farm Services Agency, a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, under federal rules that guide state programs. The USDA approved Tennessee’s state hemp program in 2020, and the state’s producers began operating under the TDA this year.

Producers already licensed in Tennessee are required to renew their applications with the TDA by June 30. New producer applications are accepted year-round but all licenses expire June 30 each year.

The Hemp Alliance of Tennessee is a non-profit group that works with the TDA. The alliance supports farmers and other stakeholders, advocates for progressive laws, and carries out educational and other initiatives intended to advance the hemp industries.

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