Hemp.  It is one of the oldest crops known to man, and it is also one of the most misunderstood plants.  Now, New York is expanding its hemp research program.


What Is Hemp?

The cannabis plant has many different varieties.  Hemp is often referred to as industrial hemp and contains less than 1% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive element in marijuana.  Both marijuana and hemp are obtained from the same cannabis species, but hemp is genetically different than marijuana, along with chemical makeup and cultivation methods.


What Does Hemp Do?

Hemp is a renewable source for raw materials that is often incorporated into thousands of products.  Health foods, organic body care, and pharmaceutical-grade and standardized nutrients called nutraceuticals.

The stalks and fibers are used for producing hemp clothing, construction materials, biofuel, plastic composites, paper, and even more.  In fact, the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) estimated that hemp products sold last year in the U.S. topped a whopping $620 million in the retail market.  Unfortunately, 100% of the raw hemp materials were imported from other countries.

Farmers have historically used rotation crops to replace CO2 and other nutrients into the soil that regular crops have depleted.  Even Thomas Jefferson recognized the importance of crop rotation.  Hemp breathes in CO2, detoxifies the soil, and prevents soil erosion.  After harvest, the left-over plant material decomposes into the soil and replenishes valuable nutrients.  In addition, hemp does not require much water to grow or pesticides to flourish and is much more environmentally friendly than traditional crops.


What Can Be Made from Hemp?

There are a wide variety of items that can be made from the hemp seed, such as:

  • Bread
  • Granola
  • Cereal
  • Milk
  • Dairy products
  • Protein powder
  • Fuel
  • Lubricants
  • Ink
  • Varnish
  • Paint
  • Dressings
  • Margarine
  • Body products
  • Cosmetics
  • Animal food
  • Flour

The hemp stalk can also be used to make items such as:

  • Animal bedding
  • Mulch
  • Chemical absorbent
  • Fiberboard
  • Insulation
  • Concrete
  • Cordage
  • Rope
  • Netting
  • Canvas
  • Carpet
  • Bio-composites
  • Non-wovens
  • Clothes
  • Shoes
  • Bags
  • Biofuel
  • Ethanol
  • Paper products
  • Cardboard
  • Filters


What Can Hemp Not Do?

Basically, since hemp varieties contain almost no THC, it cannot get a person high, no matter how much they smoke.  The body processes the miniscule amount of THC faster than a person can smoke it.  Therefore, there is no way to get high from hemp.  Then why is hemp illegal?


Why Is Hemp Illegal?

When the Marijuana Tax Act was passed in 1937, cannabis cultivation and sales were strictly regulated.  Several decades later, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified all forms of cannabis as a Schedule I drug.  This included hemp.  Schedule I drugs are illegal to grow in the United States.  Therefore, 100% of hemp used in the U.S. has been imported since 1970.  Due to the almost 50-year prohibition on hemp, most Americans do not understand the differences between marijuana and hemp.


Is Hemp Making a Comeback?

In 2014, the US Farm Bill passed for that year allowed states that already have industrial hemp legislation in their state to grow industrial hemp for research and development purposes.  States such as Kentucky, Colorado, and Oregon are conducting hemp pilot products.

Now, New York’s hemp research program is almost doubling from 2,000 acres to more than 3,500 acres.  The state has earmarked $650,000 in their budget for a hemp processing plant in addition to $2 million for a state-run hemp seed certification program.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that, under the state’s Industrial Hemp Agricultural Research Pilot program, more than 60 new businesses and farms have already received hemp research permits, with another 18 companies registered to process the hemp crops.

The governor released a press release stating, “There is renewed interest in industrial hemp production and processing throughout the country, and with our strong grower community and innovative researchers, New York is in a great position to lead.”

New York’s state Department of Agriculture and Markets Division of Plant Industry is currently accepting applications for proposed hemp research in fiber and food on a continuous basis.  Gov. Cuomo announced last year a $5 million Industrial Hemp Processors Grant Fund.  He is in favor of providing farmers an alternative crop.

“By providing an alternative crop for our farmers, industrial hemp has the potential to change the landscape of our agricultural economy, create jobs, and drive growth across the Southern Tier and throughout New York,” Cuomo stated. 

In 2017, two thousand acres of hemp were cultivated under New York’s state program.  Consumer, industrial, and medical products made from hemp accounted for around $600 million in sales yearly in the Empire state.

With a push to legalize cannabis on the federal level and with many states already legalizing medical and recreational cannabis, it is just a matter of time before hemp makes a strong comeback as a viable crop for farmers to grow.


Hemp Research in the United States

Industrial hemp research has been underway in a number of foreign countries for over a decade.  The U.S. is far behind in its efforts.  The National Hemp Association is partnering with public and private research institutions in the U.S. to help get out their findings as soon as they are published.  Currently, hemp research includes uses of hemp for:

  • Battery development
  • Construction materials
  • Paper products
  • Body products
  • Intensive research into nutraceuticals

The National Hemp Association represents:

  • Hemp farmers
  • Hemp processors
  • Hemp manufacturers
  • Start-up businesses in the hemp industry
  • Entrepreneurial endeavors
  • Retailers
  • National and international industries who recognize the benefits of hemp as an ecologically-friendly and versatile material


New York’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Program

For New York residents interested in becoming a research partner with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to conduct studies in the food and fiber areas, visit their website at https://www.agriculture.ny.gov/PI/PIHome.html

They are currently accepting applications for:

  • The Industrial Hemp Program Application
  • The Industrial Hemp Processor Registration
  • The Industrial Hemp Affiliated Research Grower Registration

Currently, the NYS Department of Agriculture is not accepting new applications for cannabinol-related research proposals.

With so many states coming on board to conduct research, hemp may become the new cash crop for farmers across the country.