The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is sharing the success story of an Indiana-based hemp farm, touting how the agency offered financial and technical assistance to help the business to maximize its output of high-quality CBD oil.
While hemp was treated the same as marijuana under federal law for decades, the crop was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, inspiring farmers across the country to begin cultivating it amid growing demand for derivatives like CBD.
USDA has worked to support the industry, promoting various resources that are available to hemp farmers as they navigate rapidly developing rules and policies.
In a post that’s part of its “Fridays on the Farm” series, USDA highlighted Papa G’s Organic Hemp Farm, a father-son business that started when Jeffrey Garland proposed growing the crop at his father’s farm in Indiana—which he had been thinking of selling until the two agreed to give hemp a shot by applying for a license under the state’s recently enacted regulations.
“Outwardly, the cannabis plants used to produce hemp oil are nearly identical to those used to produce marijuana, what differs is the internal chemistry,” USDA’s Brandon O’Connor wrote. “While marijuana plants are bred to produce the maximum amount of the psychoactive compound THC, hemp plants can be bred to maximize the non-psychoactive compound CBD, which is known for its medicinal uses, and can also be bred for fiber and grain products.”
The USDA blog post explains how, during their first growing season, the Garlands cultivated hemp outdoors in a field and also in a “high tunnel,” which is a greenhouse-like incubator covered in plastic where conditions are easier to control and crops are known to thrive. That was true of the hemp farm’s experience, with the cannabis plants growing larger for longer and resulting in bigger yields of CBD oil of higher quality.
The Garlands wanted to expand their high tunnel, and they sought USDA assistance through the department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
“They applied for an EQIP contract in 2021 and were approved with construction on the tunnel slated to take place in time for the 2022 growing season,” USDA said. “Because of the ability to control the growing environment for their plants, the high tunnels enable the Garlands to extend their season by multiple weeks on both sides. It [was] a major part of turning their hemp operation into a truly year-round operation.”
This Friday meet Jeff and Jeffery Garland of Papa G’s Organic Hemp Farm in Indiana where they work with @USDA_NRCS to extend their growing season. Learn more in this week's #FridaysOnTheFarm: https://t.co/lHf7hidz9S pic.twitter.com/fYAKlHEajd
— Farmers.gov (@FarmersGov) July 14, 2023
The post also notes the challenges of maintaining hemp’s “internal chemistry,” as federal statute dictates that the crop cannot exceed 0.3 percent THC by dry weight. Environmental factors like heat can cause THC levels to increase beyond the legal limit, making them “hot” and requiring disposal.
“A major factor in that is controlling the inputs the plants receive and ensuring they have the nutrients they need to survive and flourish,” it says, adding that the Garlands “turned to NRCS for technical advice and worked with their local district conservationist Lee Schnell to develop a cover crop plan.”
“On a hot summer day a few months after transplanting their new varieties, the air at the farm is thick with the scent of growing cannabis plants, which are well on their well to reaching their maximum height of over six feet tall,” it concludes. “In time, the plants will be dried and taken for processing where they’ll be turned into salves, tinctures, gel tablets and more. It is all part of their commitment to making the best products possible to help people.”
Meanwhile, USDA also recently renamed a trade advisory committee to prominently feature hemp among a select group of specialty crops—reflecting the agency’s understanding of cannabis as a uniquely valuable commodity.
The hemp sector took a major economic hit last year, according to an analysis from USDA that showed the crop’s value drop precipitously across all metrics. Stakeholders have largely attributed the downturn to a lack of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations on marketing valuable hemp derivative products like CBD oil. The agency has insisted that it need Congress to step in to enact such rules.
Bipartisan lawmakers in the House and Senate have introduced companion bills this session that aim to reduce regulatory burdens for farmers that grow industrial hemp for non-extraction purposes.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.