Tuesday, May 17, 2016

LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: Farming hemp could provide NC an economic boon in production

Source: encorepub.com

“Federally this is illegal. That is where the hesitation is to get involved,” Justin Hamilton comments. “Everyone is waiting for this to change federally.”

BUILDING A LEGACY: Legacy Farms’ hemp exhibit features the production value of hemp. Photo by Allison Ballard
BUILDING A LEGACY: Legacy Farms’ hemp exhibit features the production value of hemp. Photo by Allison Ballard
BUILDING A LEGACY: Legacy Farms’ hemp exhibit features the production value of hemp. 
Photo by Allison Ballard
We are standing in his front pasture, which instead of hosting grazing cows or horses currently has large display boards depicting the history of hemp production in America. His farm, just outside of Wallace, Legacy Farms (home of the Corn Maze in autumn), is hosting the NC Hemp Exhibition currently. It is a beautiful spring morning in the South; the dew in the grass makes my feet damp through my shoes. The air smells so sweet I know it tastes like sunshine. Everywhere I look nature is putting on a show, it seems. It is distracting. But I didn’t come out here to discuss the weather.
The Hemp Exhibition has come to Legacy Farms because our NC General Assembly sort of legalized industrial hemp production in North Carolina last fall. I say “sort of”  because the bill to legalize it included a provision for the creation of a hemp commission to oversee said production. $200,000—and not from the state budget—must be raised to fund the commission. According to the NC Industrial Hemp Association (NCIHA), the commission will consist of five members:
“The Commissioner of Agriculture or the Commissioner’s designee, a municipal chief of police, an elected sheriff or the sheriff’s designee, a full-time faculty member of a state university who regularly teaches in the field of agricultural science, and a full-time farmer with at least 10 years of experience in agricultural production in NC and two full time employees. The duties of the commission include, but are not limited to, creating the rules and regulations, developing the licensing procedure, verifying hemp seeds or plants are under 0.3 percent THC as established by law, obtaining necessary import permits for hemp seed, and distributing pilot program licenses to participants.”
According to the NCIHA, the money will be used to pay for the two staff positions, equipment for testing and travel, and studies to develop markets for hemp in NC.
Raising $200,000 by the end of 2016 is going to take concerted effort. As of mid-April, approximately $52,000 was in the trust account to fund the commission. Hamilton’s interest in hemp developed from researching potential crops for his farm. “It was in the news a lot,” he recalls. “I started going to a couple of events.” What he learned blew him away. “It is a sustainable crop—great to rotate with corn, and corn is big around here,” he says.
At present it is believed hemp does not need herbicide, fungicide or insecticide. A lot of time has passed since it has been cultivated, so it doesn’t have the host of traditional predators that monocrop large-scale production has developed (like corn or soy beans).
“You can harvest it three times,” Hamilton counts on his fingers. “Once for fiber, once for seed, once for medicine—that can be $5,000 an acre.”
Hamilton’s farm has a substantial “petting zoo” component of livestock for children: ponies, cows, even ferrets. He is quick to point out hemp makes great animal feed. But there is a drawback. “You have to learn how to farm this and there aren’t many people in America who know how to,” Hamilton says.
Hemp has the potential to be big business. Supporters claim upward of 25,000 potential products from the plant. The most obvious that leap to mind are rope, paper, milk (from the seeds), clothing, industrial material-strengthening agents from the fiber, and medicinal uses. Even celebrities like Dr. Oz are chatting up its benefits.
In Spring Hope, NC, Hemp, Inc. set up shop in 2008. Right now they can’t process hemp so they are working with kenaf, a similar “cousin” of hemp. Hemp, Inc. clearly believes in the market for hemp products with the construction of a 70,000,000 square-foot warehouse on 9 acres of land.
In addition to the exhibition at Legacy Farms, Hamilton is involved with Templeton Investment Group. The advertises consulting services, and investment in legal cannabis and hemp-based companies. But from a farming perspective it could be revolutionary for NC.
“My God! It could replace tobacco,” my friend Valerie comments. She’s right. The loss of tobacco as a major cash crop and export has been detrimental to the state. Just imagine if we managed to get ahead of the curve on industrial hemp production and position NC as a leader and major exporter of this potential cash crop.
The following is from “NC in the Global Economy” by the Duke Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness:  “In 1992, the U.S. tobacco industry employed over 80,762 people in 2,144 establishments.”
In 1992 NC was the largest tobacco employer nationally. We have lost close to half of those jobs since. Just to put it in perspective: Durham and Winston-Salem were both company towns for tobacco. Tobacco money funded the James B. Duke endowment that allowed Duke University to grow into the hallowed institution it is today.
My father’s first trip to the South was in the mid-1960s for a debate tournament at Wake Forest University. Upon arrival all the members of the visiting team were gifted cartons of Winston-Salem cigarettes.
Wake Forest sits on part of the Reynolds family’s former estate and funded the move to Winston-Salem largely through money form the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. My point is: Tobacco money was instrumental in building our state and many of our revered institutions. The loss of the export revenue is real. If we have an opportunity to move forward with a crop (like hemp) that can replace or even (possibly) exceed that revenue stream, then by all means let’s move forward.
Hemp could also reinvigorate NC’s defunct textile world—a major industry that moved overseas in the ‘90s. With former mills sitting empty, it would seem like getting them open again to make hemp clothing would be a boon to the languishing communities devastated by the loss.
But there are some obvious tangles. The association with marijuana is still hard for many people to shake. In addition the federal prohibition against hemp cultivation is a deterrent. “What we need is to fund the NC Hemp Commissions so that we have some rules,” Hamilton says. He is certainly doing his part aside from the hemp exhibition. Legacy Farms will host Hempfest on June 11. The event will include bands and the highlight will be a fashion show with Hemp Blue, a denim/hemp-blend clothing company that launched in LA after a successful Kickstarter campaign last year.  The exhibit in Hamilton’s pasture starts  with Thomas Jefferson and quite succinctly moves through hemp’s heyday in the U.S. to the total destruction of the hemp industry to Ran Loflin, the Colorado farmer who in 2013 planted and harvested the first large industrial hemp crop in the U.S. in over 60 years. As a former builder, his enterprise, Rocky Mountain Hemp, Inc., has quite the interest in hemp as an additive to building materials.
Clearly, there are many interesting facets to the hemp discussion and probably more potential products than we realize now. Unless we create a path to explore these potential exports safely, legally and taxably, we are going to miss out.

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