Industrial hemp faces challenges in Texas
Acres of industrial hemp in Texas were expected to explode after legalization, but cultivation has yet to take off in a state that presents many challenges as a profitable commodity, according to a Texas A&M Agricultural Extension Service expert.
There were no guidelines for the state’s hemp growers – whether for CBD, fiber, or grains – until the Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and AgriLife Extension got involved after the Texas legislature approved production by licensed operators in late 2019, said Calvin Trostle, AgriLife Extension’s agronomist and statewide hemp specialist.
Hemp crops are regulated by the Texas Department of Agriculture and tested for the psychoactive property of THC. Any hemp crop with THC above 0.3% can be impounded and destroyed, so growers should be careful not to allow their CBD, fiber, or grain crops to mature beyond this threshold.
Since legalization, hemp hysteria has waned due to dramatic market changes and research-based reality checks regarding the challenges and risks of growing the plant in Texas climates, Trostle said.
Initial information from AgriLife Extension regarding varieties suitable for various production and marketing models has potentially helped potential growers avoid millions of dollars in losses over the past two years, he said.
“As an alternative crop, the Texas hemp industry is still in its infancy,” Trostle said. “There’s a tremendous amount of education going on, but we’re still trying to figure out which varieties are adaptive in order to help growers avoid headaches. “
In early 2019, economic projections of $ 40,000 in profits per acre sparked renewed interest in hemp production for medicinal applications of CBD. But by the end of 2019, the CBD market was saturated with growers based in other states and prices plummeted.
About 132,000 acres of CBD hemp were harvested in the United States that year, and much of the crop was never processed. In 2020, around 65,000 acres were harvested, and as few as 40,000 acres in more than 40 states could meet demand for CBD in 2021.
“It doesn’t take a lot of acres to produce CBD for the end product,” Trostle said. “About 25 acres producing average yields can fill 1 million bottles containing about 1 gram of CBD.”
As of 2020, the TDA reported that 2,078 acres of the 5,000 acres allowed for industrial hemp had been planted, he said.
Fiber can be the future
Fiber could be a viable option for hemp production in Texas, but much more research is needed to determine the varieties and the correct management practices to make it profitable, Trostle said. Reducing seed costs would also help.
There have been several poor trial results and some failures in AgriLife expansion trials in the state in 2020 due to late planting, poorly adapted varieties, poor seed quality and low rates. germination, while some fields suffered from stress such as pests, heat and drought. Weed control was also a big problem in the hemp fields.
Trostle said hemp could be a fragile crop in Texas conditions. Plants, especially those grown for fiber and grains, perform best in northern climates at or above the north line of the 40th parallel – where Nebraska and Kansas meet, has t -he declares.
“The challenge we are trying to meet in the fiber and grain varieties is that most of the types are adapted to the more northern latitudes – Canada, Ukraine, Poland, France – and are very sensitive to the photo-period,” said he declared. “It’s not the units of heat and sun they need like cotton, it’s longer summer days for growth and then an increase in the length of the night to trigger reproduction. The reproduction of plants is triggered much too early in this great south.
Trostle said some test plants have entered the breeding stage at 6-7 inches, while under suitable conditions they should reach 6-7 feet tall before they start to flower. Chinese varieties hold promise, but there are still many questions and concerns to be resolved before experts at Texas A&M AgriLife can recommend management strategies that could make hemp still profitable.
Better sources of seeds would be a big step forward in reducing input costs, Trostle said. Growers can pay anywhere from $ 1,200 to $ 3,500 per acre for some varieties of CBD, especially if they buy all female seeds, as female plants produce CBD.
For comparison, planting corn can cost anywhere from $ 75 to $ 100 per acre, and sorghum seed costs can be as low as $ 8 per acre, Trostle said.
“There are seeds that we are looking at, including some from China, Australia and Italy that show promise, but until they are produced here in the US and available at much higher costs. low, it will be difficult for Texas to be a big player in the fiber game, ”he said.
There is also potential for hemp as a grain crop that produces seed oil just like canola, soybeans and sunflower – in the form of highly nutritious hemp hearts or as flour combined with other grains for animal feed.
But the industry faces similar issues, and Trostle said there hasn’t been sufficient testing for biomass in cannabis as a feed.
Beyond the challenges of producing hemp in fiber or grain form, there are no established processing facilities or constant buyers looking for fiber or grain grown in Texas. Trostle said these realities have dampened growers’ enthusiasm surrounding hemp in dozens of AgriLife Extension presentations across the state over the past two years.
“The producers got past the hype and started looking at the economics and saw it wasn’t a good option for them, at least for now,” he said.
Texas hemp will take time, research and investment
Trostle said there are successful CBD hemp growers in Texas, including small organic farms that produce hemp for CBD and process it to produce products that they sell directly to consumers under a private label. They are the exception and are managed by growers with extensive knowledge of the plant.
“There are very few producers who are just producers because the producer value is only 1% to 2% of the retail value, which is very low compared to any standard of culture, ”he said. “Those who are successful are vertically integrated and can produce organics and capture more of the final dollar. “
In the future, the industry will likely shift from small-scale practical production to mechanical economy-of-scale operations, Trostle said. But it will require reducing input costs and establishing a stable market for Texas hemp.
Trostle said AgriLife Research scientists and AgriLife extension specialists continue to move forward on several projects related to variety evaluation, plant breeding and end-use potential and that Texas hemp organizations are looking for a viable future for cultivation.
But as interest in hemp waned, funding for research declined, Trostle said. Some Texas A&M AgriLife projects are nearing the end of their funding stream, while others were self-funded research driven by scientists’ curiosity about plants.
“The fantasy of growing hemp and making tens of thousands of dollars per acre is behind us, and now we’re figuring out how to make hemp a viable option for growers,” Trostle said. “I think a lot of people are happy to see Texas A&M AgriLife involved and bringing reliable science to the table, but they don’t always like hearing what we say… the facts we report. I think there is a future for industrial hemp in Texas, but it’s going to take time, effort and investment.