Hemp may be green but the hemp industry is anything but polychromatic. Hemp is a growing industry but the wealth and prosperity aren’t shared by all. But this can and should change. There’s more than enough for all of us. Less than 2% of the farms in the U.S. are owned by African-Americans even though Black people make up approximately 12% of the total population. Black farms tend to be smaller and less profitable than the national average. I won’t bother to list the obvious reasons why.
It’s not that Black farmers are bad farmers. Many farmlands that’s been in their families for generations. Faced with seemingly insurmountable debt many fear losing their farms and along with it their very livelihoods. I humbly submit that hemp holds out real hope for American farmers including POC and women-owned farms. We can all agree there’s money in the legal cannabis market and that Black people are underrepresented. Social equity may be a buzz phrase but the fruits of the debate are elusive at best. The biggest obstacle has nothing to do with race or ethnicity and everything to do with money. It takes money and lots of it to get into the cannabis market. Money that most African-Americans don’t have access to. That’s not the case with hemp.
Licensing for hemp farming and processing is less expensive than legal cannabis. Hemp is administered by the individual states’ Departments of Agriculture which tend to be farmer-friendly. I’m not saying it’s easy but it’s doable. The key is doing your research, being realistic about what you can and can’t do, and realizing nothing will happen overnight. Many farmers can grow cotton, soybeans, and peanuts successfully. Not many Black farmers have experience with cannabis or hemp. It’s a new crop with its own learning curve. Reach out to younger folks with cannabis growing experience even if their previous convictions prevent them from being license holders themselves. It’s a win-win for both parties.
Start small, don’t throw your whole farm into a new crop. Make it part of your annual rotation. In other words, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Just because it’s hemp doesn’t’ mean you can leave common sense at the front door. Ignore CBD biomass. It’s too late. Too much hemp was grown for the CBD extraction market in 2019. The market got flooded and the prices collapsed. Anything grown in 2020 will only worsen the glut.
My advice to new Black hemp farmers is to grow for the fiber market especially hempcrete. The seeds are cheaper. Hemp grown for fiber can be farmed across acres using tractors and other farm tools. The harvest can be retted in the field which is less labor-intensive that trimming and drying flower. Small farmers have always helped each other. Small hemp farmers are no different. Share what you know and what you have. Form co-ops and pool resources. Grow your local hemp industry, farm by farm.
Not interested in growing hemp? There are more non-farm jobs available than you think. Someone needs to process, market, and sell hemp products. The industry needs lawyers, accountants, and insurance professionals well versed in hemp rules and regulations. Transfer your existing skills to this new industry and help us all. Reach out to HBCUs. Support their ag schools and encourage them to incorporate hemp into the curriculum and future plans. Encourage them to include grad students and interns. I’m not trying to ignore or minimize inequalities and injustices in the cannabis market. While we all address those inequalities let’s not ignore hemp, the low hanging fruit
By Jerry Whiting – LeBlanc CNE, Inc.