Hemp

Hemp has become the Wild West of agriculture.

Agriculture regulators in Idaho are getting ready to write new rules for hemp, a crop the state legislature just legalized.

We suggest they include some advice in those regulations: “Be careful.”

Since states such as Oregon first legalized it, hemp has represented the Wild West of agriculture.

Huge price swings coupled with speculation and a few less-than-scrupulous actors, the need for expensive seed and specialized equipment and even untimely rains have turned what had been promoted as an opportunity for farmers to diversify their crops into a latter-day version of riverboat gambling.

Now that Idaho has joined the other 49 states in the “hempstakes” we would suggest farmers there talk to their colleagues elsewhere.

They will hear comments such as these:

“We lost money two years a row.”

“You see a whole lot of land for sale now because people lost their shirts.”

“The price of hemp ... crashed overnight.”

“People are taking the contracts and wiping their butts with them and throwing them in the toilet.”

Pardon that last quote, but you get the idea.

At the same time, hemp acreage in Oregon has plummeted from 64,000 acres in 2019 to 3,800 acres registered so far this year.

When hemp first appeared on the horizon, much was said about its many uses — fiber, feed and even in “hempcrete” building materials. Little was mentioned of CBD, the substance that can be extracted from hemp and used for its health benefits. There are even CBD supplements for dogs.

Now, however, the market for CBD is overloaded and the federal government still hasn’t approved it. Also known as cannabidiol, it is said to relieve pain, anxiety, reduce acne and provide several other benefits.

Add the federal government’s tight restrictions on the amount of THC — the psychoactive substance in marijuana — that is allowed in hemp, and farmers have had to overcome problem after problem.

If the federal government ever legalizes marijuana, that will further complicate the hemp market.

Farmers’ views on those and other hemp-related issues vary. Some see them only as the speed bumps that are likely when dealing with a new commodity. Those who are vertically integrated seem to have done the best.

Others see hemp-related issues as roadblocks with “Caution” signs plastered on them.

After talking to those who have been involved in hemp for a few years, farmers in Idaho and elsewhere should consider the upside and downside of hemp as a crop and make sure they have a contract to sell it. Then they should put a pencil to it to project what the bottom line will be. Only then should they proceed.

And even then, the experience of others shows that they need to be exceedingly careful.

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