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  • Writer's pictureDeb Marshall

What the Hemp?

Flashback to October of 2019. I was attending the Oklahoma Manufacturing Summit, listening to the last breakout session of the day: “Emerging Industries”. One of the three industries highlighted was Industrial hemp. I recall returning to the office and talking to Court about what I had learned, and mentioned that this (industrial hemp) might be something that the OADC could learn more about and perhaps recruit to Okmulgee. Since that conversation, the OADC has had two industrial companies considering the Okmulgee Business Complex as a possible location for their industrial hemp business plans. One company plans to use hemp in their food products as well as food packaging. The other plans to pulverize the hemp stalk into a very fine powder that would be used as a plastic bead which would be used in plastic injection molding.

Over the past five years, the Oklahoma legislature has worked towards making Industrial Hemp a viable renewable crop for farmers across the state. There continues to be research and development to develop the industrial hemp industry from an agricultural/growing aspect. Companies that start industrial hemp manufacturing firms would much rather purchase from state growers but it can be transported in from other states until the supply and demand is stabilized.

In 2019, Rep. Scott Fetgatter carried a House Joint Resolution declaring all manufacturing incentives in Oklahoma apply to industrial hemp in 2019 (this has attracted some worldwide notoriety around the globe setting our state up to be a leader in the industrial hemp opportunity.) He also wrote and passed legislation last year to allow Oklahoma farmers remediate their crop in accordance with the USDA changes as well. He informed us that US Senator Mitch McConnell has worked federally to position Kentucky as the industrial hemp standard so the Oklahoma legislature in turn has been taking the steps necessary to compete with the Senator to say “No”, the real opportunity is in Oklahoma.

Rep. Fetgatter states: “Often farmers want to jump into the industrial hemp business but I always caution them to do their research before planting a crop” because some of the regulations are still being defined. “At the end of the day we still have somewhat of a chicken and egg scenario. Farmers of the plant need processing opportunities in Oklahoma and processors need hemp growers. There seems to be hesitation in connecting the two that would create a great opportunity for our state.”

Industrial hemp may be an ‘emerging’ (growing) field (yes, pun intended) for Oklahoma and the US (and actually hemp was a very common and important agricultural crop in the early 1900s but for various reasons including those who wanted the cotton industry to thrive instead, it fell by the wayside). Industrial hemp (the stalk, the core, the seed) has served as a worldwide source of fiber and oilseed products for centuries, producing a wide variety of industrial and consumer products, including:

  • Textiles (i.e. clothing, shoes, socks, diapers, cords, netting, canvas, carpeting)

  • Building materials (i.e. insulation, fiberglass substitute, fiber board)

  • Industrial components (i.e. brakes/linings, caulking, molded parts, animal bedding, mulch, compost)

  • Other (i.e. paper, food/body care, paints, biofuel, inks, etc)

  • Paper

In terms of its sustainability and versatility for consumer products, hemp is often referred to as an ethical sustainable crop. Not only does hemp grow in a variety of climates and soil types, it also grows very tightly spaced (decreasing land use) and has a fast growing rate (which leads to high yields) Because it is naturally resistant to most pests, the hemp crop means less (or zero) herbicides, fungicides. Because of its resiliency, hemp is also a natural way to clean up soil pollution.

It’s easy to confuse hemp with its better known cousin cannabis. Many people have this misperception and while we understand why, it is important to be clear on the two. Yes, industrial hemp and marijuana are both members of the cannabis family. When cultivated, the plants look quite different, are grown differently and importantly, industrial hemp has very low levels of the psychoactive cannabinoid, THC. It’s all about genetics and what the end goal for the crop is intended for. The use of hemp for textiles would be different from the hemp grown for CBD, CBG and CBN.

You cannot get high on industrial hemp because the level of THC (the psychoactive component) is usually below .3% in cultivated industrial hemp and doesn’t exceed 1%. In marijuana/medical cannabis, a 3.5% THC is considered still quite weak and it can be as high as 25%.

The hemp industry is still in the early days of emerging here in the US and in Oklahoma, working through legislative hurdles, agricultural challenges, transport and conversion to a final product. The rest of the world has about a 200 year+ head start on the USA in the use of industrial hemp. Definitely there are things to work out and work through. But we have some very creative engineers and entrepreneurs here in the good old USA, so we’ll figure it out. This old, really old idea has once again become a new idea that’s not likely to go up in smoke.

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