Hemp — a new, valuable and potentially lucrative multi-use crop for New York farmers

Last month, Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences hosted an Industrial Hemp Summit; a first for New York state. The summit, which was held at the Biotechnology Building on the Cornell campus, in Ithaca, brought farmers, researchers, manufacturers, legislators, economic development advisors, and investors together to lay out strategies for, and address challenges to, building a comprehensive, dynamic hemp industry in New York state.

Industrial hemp has literally tens-of-thousands of uses, which span a wide range of markets. Among them are the following:

-Grain for food (human, pet, and livestock)

Recent studies commissioned by the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance have shown that hens will produce omega-3 eggs when fed hempseed or meal.

Mammals generally won’t eat hemp, but in an experimental trial using hemp silage, no significant differences were found between yield of hemp and of barley/oat silage fed to heifers, suggesting that fermenting hemp plants reduces or breaks down possible detrimental components – Letniak et al. (2000)

-Oil for food

Hempseed oil has an extremely desirable 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids, as well as linoleic acid and alpha-linoleic acid. Omega 3 and 6 can only be sourced through food and are essential polyunsaturated fats needed to build healthy cells and maintain brain and nerve function. Hempseed contains roughly 35 percent oil and 25 percent crude protein.

≤Oil for cosmetics and personal care products

Hemp oil is now marketed throughout the world in a range of body care products; including creams, lotions, soaps, shampoos, bubble baths, moisturizers, lip balms, and perfumes.

-Industrial oil

Hemp oil has applications in paints, varnishes, sealants, lubricants, and printing inks.

-Oil and straw/fiber to replace fossil fuels

Hemp is a high-yielding energy crops with low environmental impact.

Hemp can be used to produce biodiesel, ethanol, methanol, and methane gas.

Charcoal with nearly the same heating value in BTUs as coal, essentially without sulfur, can be created from hemp through pyrolysis.

Hemp biomass can be co-fired with coal to reduce emissions.

When an energy crop is growing, it takes carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air. An equivalent amount of CO2 is released when it’s burned, creating a balanced system, unlike petroleum fuels, which only release CO2. If hemp was grown and used on a massive scale, it would initially reduce the CO2 in the air, and then stabilize it at lower levels.

-Straw/fiber

Hemp fiber can be used in making rope, twine, cloth, geo-textiles, paper, carpeting, animal bedding, biodegradable plastics, plastic composites, building materials (i.e. fiberboard, insulation, ceiling tiles, and hempcrete), and canvas (The word canvas is rooted in “cannabis.”

Industrial hemp is Cannabis sativa, but with only a small fraction of the THC found in marijuana.)

Hemp fiber has exceptional tensile and flexural strength and durability, as well as desirable anti-microbial, absorbent, acoustic, and aesthetic properties.

What’s more, hemp is a rapidly-renewable-resource-material, which is inexpensive, grows rapidly in most climates, has dense, fast-growing stalks which suppress common weeds, and requires little fertilizer and pesticides. As new and emerging opportunities for feedstock are introduced, demand is anticipated to grow.

The 2014 U.S. Farm Bill legalized the growth of hemp for research by Departments of Agriculture or higher education institutions, in states where it has been approved by law. In New York state, Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Endwell) and State Senator Tom O’Mara, (R-Big Flats) sponsored legislation that created New York’s pilot program. It became law in December 2015, making New York the 19th state to legalize industrial hemp trials for research. Cornell University and SUNY Morrisville were issued research permits in 2016.

Cornell University Professor Donald Viands, who teaches plant breeding and quantitative genetics at CALS’ School of Integrated Plant Science, and develops cool-season, perennial forage cultivars with higher yield, forage quality, and multiple disease and insect resistances, was tasked with researching the performance of industrial hemp cultivars and initiating a study into optimal planting protocols for hemp in New York. His trials compared different seeding equipment to determine the best practices for sowing hemp seeds in New York soils.

Last month, at the Hemp Summit, the state announced an expansion of the Industrial Hemp Agricultural Research Pilot Program to include private farms and businesses. SUNY Sullivan and Binghamton University were authorized to grow and research hemp, and six private farms and businesses were also issued permits, bringing the total number of hemp research sites across the state to ten.

A $400,000 state award to support researchers at Cornell’s Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva was also announced. Cornell researchers will be exploring practices for growing varieties of hemp in different soil types and in various locations around the state and will assess hemp seed quality for germination and weed contamination.

The state also announced that a Hemp Technical Team, consisting of three Cornell Cooperative Extension educators and a State Department of Agriculture and Markets liaison, will be established to support optimal growing and processing of industrial hemp.

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said the state would seek a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration to import seeds internationally and create a seed distribution site, and that private growers will be able to pursue permits, as well. To qualify for private research a company would have to have a business plan and would have to reach a research agreement with an institution of higher education. Ball believes that, by increasing testing and research and teaming private industry with those in the academic arena, industrial hemp could develop into a New York agricultural staple.

As more and more state officials embrace industrial hemp, a crop that had been banned for decades, as a lucrative addition to New York agriculture, they are looking to CALS for research and technical expertise. Beginning this summer, CALS researchers will hold field days at research farms for growers to look at hemp varieties and their suitability for oil and fiber production.

“New York state is poised to take on hemp in a big way, and CALS stands ready to partner with growers to help in this new endeavor.” said Christine Smart, professor of plant pathology and interim director of the School of Integrative Plant Science.

Smart also said demonstration trials could be expanded in future years to grower farms, to test how varieties do in other locations.

“Introducing a new crop presents agricultural challenges that must be addressed in order for growers to make optimal decisions on the farm. Cornell researchers in the School of Integrative Plant Science are poised to develop solutions that New York farmers need to make industrial hemp a meaningful addition to our vibrant bio-economy,” said Kathryn J. Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch dean of CALS.

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