Hemp Is Now America’s Fastest Growing Cash Crop
Hemp farms grew nearly 400% in the last year. Could the explosive expansion indicate what’s to come if marijuana is federally legalized, too?
Published on August 15, 2019

Marijuana’s sober sibling, hemp, is taking over more US farm space than any other crop currently grown for profit. 

According to the US Department of Agriculture, the number of hectares devoted to hemp cultivation skyrocketed to a 368 percent growth rate this year. At the end of the 2018 summer, only 27,424 acres were devoted to hemp; today, it’s 128,320 acres

That’s over four times the growth rate of the second-fastest expanding cash crop, maple, which had an 85 percent growth rate. Farmland set aside for for hemp is expected to increase as CBD products, which are primarily derived from hemp, become increasingly popular, as well. 

For decades, commercial farmers in America have relied on monocropped corn or genetically modified soybeans to make a living. But growing corn and soy is boring AF, and both crops have lost their profitability under President Trump’s trade war with China, a country that purchases large quantities of American corn and soy products. This year alone, America’s agricultural imports to China fell 20 percent, which hasn’t helped the average farmer’s income, which dropped 45 percent over the last six years, according to the USDA.

“There are a lot of things you can do on a farm, but there aren’t a lot of things you can do to make money,” Will Brownlow, a Kentucky farmer who began farming hemp last year, told Quartz. “The plant is a weed, and it likes to grow.”

Before he switched to the “weed,” Brownlow grew soy, which brought in about $500 per acre. But he said hemp can rack up to $30,000 per acre, and it’s much easier to grow than soy. 

Gallery — Weed Porn and Cannabis Up-Close:

Late last year, Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which included a section that removed hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act, effectively legalizing it nationwide. That move prompted farmers in America’s Midwest to switch from mainstreamed cash crops to hemp. 

Hemp’s future looks promising, too. Last year, the sector generated $1.1 billion. By 2022, it’s expected to hit $2.6 billion

Given that state-legal marijuana markets generated $9 billion last year, one can only imagine how weed will change the face of American farming once it becomes federally legal. And the farmers who just got the jump on hemp will be in an excellent position to transition into marijuana, since they’ll already have the hands-on experience.

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Randy Robinson
Based in Denver, Randy studied cannabinoid science while getting a degree in molecular biology at the University of Colorado. When not writing about cannabis, science, politics, or LGBT issues, they can be found exploring nature somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Catch Randy on Twitter and Instagram @randieseljay
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