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Industrial Hemp Demand is Rising in New York State

Industrial Hemp in NYSYou’re home. Balancing take-out in your arms as you open the door, you toss your keys on a table. The sound of your shoes echos down the hallway as you walk into your kitchen. You put the bag down. Pulling out the plates and plastic silverware, you start setting up the food containers and get ready to dish it out for your family.

What’s the common thread in this scenario? Hemp. The door, table, flooring, bag, containers, plates, even the clothes you’re wearing can be made with hemp. And your house? It can be built with materials derived from hemp, too.

Just a few years ago, this may have sounded like science fiction. What was once made by petrochemicals can soon be replaced with hemp, a sustainable, renewable material. With a massive expansion in the hemp industry and research, we could be living in a future with a reduced carbon footprint much sooner.

Hemp Industry Growth

According to a 2020 report by Grand View Research, industrial hemp, which includes seeds, fiber, and shives, is forecasted to grow to $15.26 billion by 2027. (SOURCE) Hemp has been used for centuries for making rope and other products. Through research and innovation, hemp is a key component in making sustainable renewable products that can replace petrochemical-derived ones.

Industrial hemp is also grown to accentuate parts that are useful for industrial applications, and not consumable ones. Varieties that are bred for fiber or grain are not useful for smoking. For example, the stalk is important for fiber or rope and the seeds for grain. Focusing on those parts of the plant will take energy away from developing productive flowers, which are traditionally used in smoking.

New York State growers have been growing hemp since 2016. 2020 projections from Hemp Industry Daily predicted that the state would grow 29,777 acres outdoors, surpassing Oregon (29,604 acres),
making it the third-highest outdoor hemp production in the country. (SOURCE)

The Finger Lakes has experienced its share of hemp industry news recently. In late 2019, the USDA announced plans to establish an industrial hemp seed bank in Geneva, New York in partnership with Cornell Agritech.

Cornell Hemp Research Program and Cornell Agritech hosted a virtual hemp field day in August 2020. The research program is conducting multidisciplinary research with experts from horticulture, plant science, plant breeding and genetics, controlled environment agriculture, plant pathology, entomology, and other areas.

Field days typically involve tours of plant trials. Due to COVID-19, the field day included a video feed from Geneva. With blue skies above, researchers walked people through the different field trials for CBD, seed, and fiber to show the public the latest research on different varieties they are testing.

Why Grow Hemp in New York State?

“The advantage that we have for hemp is that we typically have more than sufficient rainfall. We don’t typically need to rely on irrigation,” Larry Smart, Cornell University horticulture professor and part of the Cornell Hemp Research team, explains. In addition to our climate, “our combination of rich soils and diverse agriculture make hemp a suitable addition to our crops in New York.”

New York is projected to grow nearly 500% more hemp than in 2019 according to the Hemp Industry Daily projections. With such an immense opportunity for hemp use, we’ll see a need for other infrastructure support too.

Smart explains that necessary infrastructure is a bit of a chicken and egg issue, “We really need market demand in different market sectors to justify the capital investment in the more hemp-specific infrastructure that we need.”

Hemp grain and hemp fiber require different processing and conditioning facilities. As Smart noted, companies need stability in market growth in order to justify the capital investment required for these facilities. Smart suggested that companies in soybean processing could transition to processing hemp grain but processing facilities for hemp fiber are different and so far, haven’t been established yet in the state.

The Finger Lakes Workforce Advantage

The Finger Lakes has a strong workforce, which is an advantage for a growing hemp industry. Within hours of the Finger Lakes are multiple universities and colleges whose graduates create a highly educated workforce. Some of these institutions include Cornell University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Binghamton University, University of Rochester, Syracuse University, SUNY ESF, Hobart and William Smith, Keuka College, Ithaca College, Nazareth College, and St. John Fisher College, among others.

Finger Lakes Community College has also recently started a Cannabis Biology and Cultivation Track within its Horticulture department to help the burgeoning industry gain access to specialized employees as quickly as possible.

“Hemp has cache – especially among young people,” Larry explains. “We’ve seen people who once moved out of New York to Colorado or the Pacific Northwest, returning to their farm and building the
hemp industry in New York State.”

If the demand from consumers for sustainable products continues, industrial hemp will continue to thrive. The hemp industry wields a wealth of opportunity for farming in the Finger Lakes and the hemp farming ecosystem in our region is ripe for growth.

Industrial Hemp Fast Facts:

The hemp industry is heavily regulated. New York State may submit a regulatory program to USDA for approval or they may not. Make certain you are following New York State Agriculture and Markets for the latest information on hemp regulations in New York State.
● Lack of local processing facilities could create a bottleneck for farmers interested in growing hemp.
● Historic tobacco-producing states like Kentucky and North Carolina are transitioning quickly to the hemp industry.

Maureen Ballatori is a contributor to the LOCATE Finger Lakes Business Journal. She owns 29 Design Studio, a Finger Lakes-based branding and marketing agency that specializes in food and agriculture. She is also a partner in Metro Collective, a coworking venture with six locations throughout the Greater Rochester and Finger Lakes regions.

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