The industrial hemp market hasn’t grown as fast as the Arkansas crop.
The climate may be great for the harvest, which a few years ago was touted as a moneymaker and new source for everything from clothing, textiles, building materials to fuel and food.
So what’s wrong with hemp? At least not the price like petrol.
There are only about 20 hemp farmers in Arkansas.
But one hemp farmer in Fort Smith is doing fine. Danny Upchurch opened 33 CBD Supply at 2801 Old Greenwood in Fort Smith. Hemp farms are located in Arkoma and Spiro, where more than 100 acres grow. CBD continues to be in demand and growing in popularity for a variety of healthcare uses.
Just four years ago, there was a lot of excitement about the legalization of industrial hemp, the plant from which marijuana is derived. There was talk that industrial hemp would not only produce profitable CBD oils, but also provide material for a variety of products made from textiles, a substitute for plastic and fiber. Fibers have been used in concrete and wood building materials.
Although hemp plants containing 0.3% THC, the chemical that produces the effects of marijuana, became legal at the federal level with the passage of the 2018 farm bill, the market hasn’t been as exciting, said Jim Correll, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Arkansas who studied hemp in the state.
“There was a lot of excitement about the harvest and how to make money. It’s gone down,” Correll said. And the number of growers has been falling for the start-up industry in recent years.
Correll studies diseases and other conditions that affect hemp quality and yield.
“The number of growers has gone down significantly,” Correll said.
Meanwhile, Arkansas currently has about 20 industrial hemp farmers, said Bill Morgan, a hemp researcher who grows west of Fayetteville.
There have been farmers whose hemp was tested with too high a THC content and the crop had to be destroyed.
In the early 1900s, hemp was everything, he said. The first colonists had hemp seeds, and hemp was grown for textiles, clothing, and other uses.
“Henry Ford built a car out of hemp and fueled the car with hemp,” Morgan said.
He said the 1930s film Reefer Madness was bad for hemp’s image.
The hemp plant is good for the soil and can renew the soil.
Morgan’s Biogen company grows hemp for CBD oil. The fibers can be used by tall, thin plants. The hemp plants for CBD are shorter, he said. Visit his website, ozarkmountainmedicine.com, for more information.
He said he plans to continue working in the hemp industry.
“I’m trying to figure things out,” Morgan said.
Morgan said he has been growing food crops for 50 years. He said he developed ways to grow in Arkansas soil. The climate in Arkansas is good for hemp.
“The environment is good for hemp,” Morgan.
Paul Van Lare, 45, owner of Fort Smith-based GrowFresh Organics & More, said he tried growing hemp when it became legal in 2018. But in autumn 2021 he let his license expire. There wasn’t enough certainty in the market to put money and work into. Manpower and the lack of it, Van Lare said, is a problem for any farm work across the country, he said. The yield didn’t look like it was worth the effort, he said.
Van Lare said hemp is a crop but no longer a controlled substance under federal law, a step forward for the industry.
“It’s the oldest cultivated plant known to man,” said Van Lare.
“The reason it’s so valuable is that it’s resilient, adaptable, and adapts quickly to its environment,” said Van Lare. He said hemp doesn’t need pesticides like other crops.
“Hemp is important to the world and has been for 5,000 years,” said Van Lare.
The number of farmers approved for a hemp license by the Arkansas State Department of Agriculture has declined.
In 2021, Arkansas had just 49 licensed hemp farmers, down 78 from when the program began in 2019. The total is expected to fall again this year.
In 2020 there were 121 growers and the first growing season for legalized hemp in 2019 started with 125 growers.