Hemp has been legal in the U.S. for a number of years thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill. At the time it was heralded as an easy cash crop for farmers, but the reality has proven far less lucrative. Federal CBD regulation (or lack thereof) and market pressures have done some serious damage to the industry over the last year. We spoke to Glen Astrove, co-founder of Rich Global Hemp, about the numerous hurdles faced by hemp farmers.
The Paper.: Can you tell us about Rich Global Hemp?
Astrove: We are a multi-state cannabis operator, but we saw some real opportunities in the hemp space. As you may know, cannabis and hemp are the same plant. One of them produces one particular derivative more than the other, but that’s really the only difference between the two plants. My partner and I have worked with the plants for over 25 years, so we have a lot of experience with the plant. Hemp is a way to get the door open for people to break the stigma around cannabis and understand that THC is only one of 150 known cannabinoids that are in the plant. THC, for whatever reason, has given it a negative stigma. And THC is only 0.2 percent of what the plant has to offer. But if you look into the history and the politics and the lobbying, it becomes clear why it was demonized.
Seeing an opportunity to break the stigma around a plant that we have loved to work with for the majority of our lives, it seemed like a great opportunity. Also, knowing as much as we do about genetics and breeding, we thought it would be great to be stewards of the industry and help people get on their feet.
Do a lot of hemp growers have troubles starting out?
Well, a lot of people think, “I have an acre in the back of my yard, and I want to grow hemp.” They haven’t thought it out. The majority of the problems that I find in the hemp industry are due to lack of knowledge—whether it be of specific genetics, or whether it be a lack of knowledge on how to dry and cure the product. Anyone can grow it, it seems, but the true technique behind making the product is how you take it down, how you dry it and how you cure it. We treat it like an ornamental flower, so there’s a lot of intention behind it. There’s a lot of care that goes into it.
Our success in other states has been due to our ability to join cannabis culture with Big Ag. There are some large Ag spots in New Mexico. We figured we could probably learn a couple of things from the farmers, and we can also help them to learn. So we got into it; we became very politically involved—whether that was a good thing or a bad thing—and got involved in projects like gifting farmers plants and helping them get a good start.
The hemp industry seemed much more promising a few years ago compared to today. What are some of the issues facing producers?
A couple of things happened in the hemp industry that were extremely detrimental and contradicted the promises that the farmers were given. The FDA blocked CBD from being put into drinks. Coca-Cola was set up; Pepsi was set up; there were numerous huge beer companies that were ready to put CBD into their product. When the FDA didn’t allow that to happen, it really killed the industry. Demand just wasn’t there, and that happened during growing season. So all of these farmers were ramping up production to meet the initial demand, but the demand just went away.
And when you look at the industry, a lot of hemp seed prices—they’re selling at $1 a seed. There’s no way you would grow corn if those seeds were $1 a piece. It just doesn’t give the farmers a margin for making money after buying genetics.
Another thing is that the genetics are not stable, or secured, or proven, so you get these bad genetics that may not even have CBD in them or may go hot with THC. The knowledge and the know-how and the experience just is not there with this industry.
Could much of this be solved if the FDA approved CBD for consumption?
Yes, that would definitely help. It’s all about supply and demand, and you’re going to drive demand up, because these large companies are really averse to risk. When you give these large companies the green light, and they get their entire legal team and head counsel saying, “You can go ahead. There’s no risk in it,” then it’s going to explode.
When you don’t have companies that have ingenious marketing behind them and the money to put into marketing, you’re really not going to drum up a demand for things. So allowing these large companies to become involved—I think that’s a huge part of it.
But our focus shouldn’t be on making a million dollars this year, it needs to be on improving genetics, so they’re more trustworthy and stable. That will benefit the entire industry. It should be more of a collective effort than a competitive effort.
Is there any advice you can give farmers who want to get into this industry?
I would say there’s still some good money in smokeable hemp flower. Your skills just have to be a lot tighter to be able to pull it off. Hemp is also a great bio accumulator. You could go into a toxic silver mine and plant it, and it will pull all the garbage out of the earth and hold it in it stalks. You can really clean land with it. There’s so much potential with this plant. But is the world ready for it, and do people have their minds on the business plan that’s going to make the most sense for where regulations are right now?
Rich global hemp provides hemp clones, seeds and seedlings to the hemp industry. For more information, visit richglobalhemp.com.