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State's first hemp harvest exceeds what farmers can market

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Saturday, May 23, 2020  |  Article  |  By Pat Morris | For The Center Square

Agriculture (2)

(The Center Square) – When Illinois legalized hemp planting in 2018, nearly 600 farmers began growing a plant that had not been cultivated since WWII, and they had high hopes.

But, in the short term, the boom has gone bust.

Andy Huston, who began growing hemp in 2014 under the aegis of research, said that a lack of infrastructure, incomplete USFDA guidelines and the COVID-19 pandemic, have put a damper on the industry. As the price has plummeted from $40 a pound to $5 or $6, about half of those who planted last year have decided they cannot afford to do so again.

Snags exist in both sides of the industry: cultivation for CBD oil, and the “fiber” sector, which is everything from textiles to concrete to byproducts used for cattle feed.

“Anything that's made out of plastic can be made out of hemp,” he said. “But hemp has to be cost-competitive with the plastic products.” Current infrastructure, though, is set up to process plastic products, and few if any companies are investing in hemp processing in a tight time.”

And while CBD oil is growing in popularity as a remedy for many things that ail you, Huston said, the FDA is now looking at the oil less as a supplement and more as a drug, limiting sales.

“Right now we produce more than the retail market can handle, until the FDA comes out with their guidelines and opens up the market a little.”

But he said he still expects hemp to boom eventually.

“It may take three or four years on the cyber end of it for that to get up and going. With the CBD market, if they opened it up with the FDA, I could see that when they put those guidelines out, that's going to create a huge demand for CBD.”