Ohio, in many ways, is a national leader when it comes to agriculture. It ranks 11th in the number of farms (73,600), ninth in soybean production and eighth in corn production.
It’s also often on the leading edge when it comes to farm technology, innovation and best farming practices.
But the state is falling far behind in researching and developing a commodity crop that is on the rise elsewhere in the country and the world: industrial hemp.
Ohio is one of only 16 states which has not enacted some form of hemp legislation. Thirty-four states, including all those surrounding Ohio, already allow cultivation of hemp for commercial, research or pilot programs.
Industrial hemp’s main problem is that the plant looks like marijuana. But hemp contains very low levels of THC, the chemical that produces the “high” for pot users, and hemp seeds, stalks and leaves can be used to make a wide variety of products from apparel, foods and pharmaceuticals to body care products, car dashboards and building materials.
Store shelves in the U.S. are already filled with products made with hemp, but most are imported from other countries where the plant has been legally grown for decades, if not centuries.
Despite its early popularity in the U.S., industrial hemp was discontinued in the 20th century, primarily due to the misguided fears that it is marijuana.
But the misperception is dying. Production of industrial hemp is growing in the U.S., although acres planted pale in comparison to soybeans and corn. Nineteen states grew hemp in 2017 (up from 15 states in 2016) and 25,541 acres of hemp crops were grown last year (up from 9,770 acres in 2016). Thirty-two universities now conduct hemp research.
States which have adopted hemp have done so as a benefit to farmers looking to diversify operations and because of its commercial potential. It fits well into organic, low-input and sustainable methods of agriculture.
Political progress is also being made.
This week the Senate Agriculture Committee passed an early draft of the farm bill which included U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposed Hemp Farming Act of 2018.
If the act survives in the final bill, it would remove industrial hemp from the list of controlled substances under federal law, a roadblock that has led some states, including Ohio, to shy away from hemp production. It would also empower states to be the primary regulators of hemp and encourage hemp research through United States Department of Agriculture competitive federal grants.
McConnell’s support may be just what industrial hemp needs to re-emerge on a national level. Other states have recognized the economic potential and benefits of industrial hemp for farmers. Ohio must, too, or it will be left behind.
We would urge the state’s U.S. senators, Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown, to support McConnell’s amendment as the farm bill discussions continue this summer.