With April ending and May quickly approaching MD hemp farmers are preparing for the 2020 growing season. Seeds have been started in greenhouses and clones are rooting to be transplanted in early May or as soon as the weather permits. Excitement has be growing for the oncoming season, but with some caution.
As of 4/20/20 the Maryland Department of Agriculture has approved 53 growers, 848 acres and 359,836 sq. ft. of greenhouse space with pending 16 growers 300 acres and 112,100 sq. ft. of greenhouse space for the 2020 season. That is an increase of 5 new approved applicants since early March, 48 additional acres and almost 40,000 sq. ft. extra of greenhouse space. Even with the pending applications possibly approved by the start of this growing season it seems we have a similar amount of cultivators in the state (69 licensed MD hemp producers) as we did last year, but with a lot less projected production (acreage is down 27% and greenhouse square footage is down 55.8%). This shows a more cautious approach to production for this year over last year, as many farmers are still sitting on product (raw and extracted oil) from last year given that the demand did not meet the supply.
Applications for the Maryland Hemp Program are still currently being processed, but with challenges created by the COVID-19 teleworking orders for the MD Dept. of Ag. Jim Drews has informed me that the processing of applications is taking longer than usual, due to the fact that mail is only received twice a week and only one person from each section is allowed in the building for three days a week. Applicants are asked to be patient during this difficult time.
Coronavirus Carries On
The introduction of the COVID-19 pandemic’s strict social restrictions placed on individuals and local businesses in March carried over into April with layoffs, local businesses/retail stores closed or operating with online outlets, curbside, delivery and/or by appointment only. This lowered the sales of most MD Hemp based businesses and producers since the majority of sales were through local boutiques. Similar effects have been experienced across the nation.
In March the federal government had classified hemp production, along with the entire food and agricultural production system, as “essential” but the classification doesn’t extend to retailers selling hemp and CBD. Some retailers across the country were told to shut down during the coronavirus response and they have asked the authorities to reconsider and designate them “essential” businesses. They had pointed out that many states classify medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries as “essential” and that some customers rely on CBD products for anxiety relief during this time of crisis.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act included $349 billion for small business Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Programs (PPP), but two weeks after the funds were made available (on April 3), the funds had dried up. This first round of relief funds was not open to agricultural small businesses, but a second round has since been approved and the USDA confirmed this time farmers are eligible. Thanks to the collective advocacy and efforts by Vote Hemp, Maryland Hemp Coalition, and many other national trade organizations for the hemp industry the additional $321 billion that were replenished into the small business lending programs (i.e. the EIDL & PPP) by the federal government was also made available to hemp farmers. These assistance programs are on a first come first serve basis and farmers are encouraged to apply immediately by visiting www.sba.gov/disaster-assistance/coronavirus-covid-19.
A few studies have been highlighted in the news recently stating the effects of CBD potentially aiding in relief of COVID-19. One study in particular conducted by researchers at the University of Lethbridge in Southern Alberta, Canada shows promising data collected over the past four years that some extracts containing high levels of CBD and low levels of THC may help in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. The researchers say based on the preliminary data and pending further investigations, anti-inflammatory high-CBD cannabis extracts can modulate the levels of the receptors in highly relevant tissues that have now been shown to be key gateways to how the COVID-19 virus enters the body. Igor Kovalchuk, a researcher in the study stated, “Imagine a cell being a large building. Cannabinoids decrease the number of doors in the building by, say, 70 percent, so it means the level of entry will be restricted. So, therefore, you have more chance to fight it.” The early discoveries indicate the potential for hemp based products to be used for both clinical practice and at-home treatment.
We all know that the impact of COVID-19 extends farther than the effects of the viral infection on an individual itself, but also impacts the economy and mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a parallel pandemic of fear, anxiety, and depression. A study conducted in Denmark, by a pair of researchers affiliated with the Nordic Cannabis Research Institute reviewed 25 clinical trials assessing the safety and efficacy of CBD in various populations. They concluded that there is some evidence that supports anxiolytic (reduce anxiety) of acute administration of oral CBD and in comparison to other drugs, a better side effect profile was presented.
Interest in Hemp Grows
These studies highlight the extensive medicinal side of hemp while interest in the industrial side is increasing. The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point have assembled a team of researchers to produce a testable textile for the military, who intends to use the plant based textiles for seat covers, uniforms, and seat belts. This would allow for the products to be made in America, removing the need to import internationally which is particularly relevant when you consider that geopolitical tensions are currently at an all-time high. Experts claim that Wisconsin farmers, among others in the country, will reap the rewards this plant will bring.
Another product that can be produced on the industrial side of hemp is “hemp plastic” and is increasingly becoming a viable option as an eco-friendly alternative to carbon-based plastic. Not only is this bioplastic sourced from safe and sustainable hemp plants, but it is also typically both biodegradable and recyclable. All plastics, no matter where it is derived from, require cellulose to structure the uniquely moldable, yet durable, characteristics. Hemp is a perfect replacement for petroleum, considering hemp hurds are roughly 80 percent cellulose, can be grown organically, and are non-toxic. Petroleum-based plastics contain harmful toxins like BPA, which have been linked to infertility, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and a whole slew of other negative health issues.
Even in these troubling times hemp is providing some hope for a better future for all aspects of life, from health and healing to new opportunities and innovations.