USDA: ‘Difficult to imagine hemp matching corn or soybeans’

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A report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that summarizes development of the industrial hemp sector is not necessarily upbeat about the future, calling hemp a “specialty crop,” and noting: “It is difficult to imagine . . .  the demand for acres for industrial hemp matching the demand for acres to grow corn or soybeans for animal or human food.”

The 77-page analysis came in a USDA bulletin, “Economic Viability of Industrial Hemp in the United States: A Review of State Pilot Programs,” recently released. 

Pilots ‘successful’

While noting that pilot hemp programs created under the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill were “successful” in restarting hemp as a crop, the report concludes that “some common challenges and lessons learned in moving production beyond the pilot programs have become apparent.”

“While the numbers of planted acres and participants in the U.S. industrial hemp industry increased rapidly under the pilot programs, and hemp can now be grown legally in nearly every state, the long-term trends for U.S. industrial hemp are uncertain,” the report, from the USDA’s Economic Research Service, further concludes. The report concedes, however, that “the recent rapid growth of the alternative plant protein food sector does show some possibility for a ‘specialty’ crop to suddenly become a growing market sector.”

The challenges

In other challenges outlined in the report, the authors wrote that the long-term economic viability of industrial hemp in the United States will be affected by:

• The availability of reliable, transparent data and peer-reviewed research and market information;

• Competition for acreage from conventional field crops and marijuana;

• Well-established foreign competitors for hemp product markets;

• The ability to decrease production and pricing uncertainty through transparency and risk management.

“The next few years should see a resolution of the legal and regulatory issues constraining hemp production in the United States, leaving domestic production, imports, consumer demand, and exports to dictate growth and long-term market size,” the report also concluded. 

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