By Clint Thompson
Auburn University Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist Katelyn Kesheimer has a message for all farmers interested in growing hemp this year: Know what you’re getting into.
During this year’s hemp meetings, which continue in March throughout Alabama, Kesheimer and other specialists are discussing economics, insects, weeds and diseases that are associated with hemp production.
“We’re very clear when we say don’t invest more money than you’re willing to lose. Right now, the market is very uncertain, so we don’t know what’s going to happen with that price,” Kesheimer said. “That’s message No. 1; don’t invest your entire retirement in this crop right now. We finally do have crop insurance so you can get insurance for your crop. Even that is complicated, so make sure you know exactly how much you can lose or you will get back.”
This is the second year growers in Alabama will able to produce hemp. Kesheimer said there were 150 licensed growers with 10,000 acres approved, though only about half were farmed. Kesheimer estimates that at least 600 farmers are approved for the 2020 season.
“I think some people did really well if they got their plants from a good source and they didn’t run into pests or disease, or weed or insect sort of issues and they had secured a buyer before their plants were in the ground. A lot of people were overly ambitious and didn’t do all the things they should have done early in the season,” Kesheimer said. “By the end of the year, they had all these plants and didn’t know what to do with them.”
She added that more than 90 percent of hemp producers across the country grow hemp for CBD oil. Farmers need to have a processor in place who can take the plant and extract the oil to be sold before beginning production.
The main issue, though, remains the market price, which has dropped more than 80 percent since July 2019. Prices that were once $3 to $4 per percent CBD per pound of CBD are now $.75 to $1.
“Similar to other states like Kentucky and Tennessee, there was an overabundance of plants at the end of the year. Some people are still holding on to them; they’re still drying them. They still have their product. They’re waiting to find someone to buy it and they’re waiting for the market to bounce back,” Kesheimer said. “It’s like most markets; you’re gambling to when you sell off your product, but you don’t see this in other crops. You don’t see cotton prices drop 85 percent over the course of six months.”
Despite the overabundance of crop, Kesheimer remains positive about the potential of hemp in the Southeast.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we can find a place, especially in the Southeast, for hemp as a viable rotation crop with our other row crops and as a specialty crop for the essential oil, CBD. Right now, there’s just so many unknowns. We’re trying to let potential or interested growers know here’s what we know, here’s what we don’t know,” Kesheimer said.
Future Hemp Production Meetings:
8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
County Ag Center
2959 County Road 333
Wedowee, Alabama 36278
8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Lauderdale County Extension Office
802 Veterans Drive
Florence, Alabama 35630
8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Sand Mountain Research and Extension Center
Crossville, Alabama 35962