Editor's Note: In the effort to protect the health and safety of our attendees, employees and communities amidst the developments of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) global pandemic, we have made the difficult decision not to hold Cannabis Conference 2020 in April and are actively working with our meeting hotel, Paris Las Vegas Resort & Casino, to determine potential alternative dates for the event.
Hemp Grower editors pulled together some of their favorite quotes from interviews with the speakers who will lead educational sessions on all aspects of operating plant-touching cannabis businesses, including hemp, during the conference.
“I think this is one of these fields where people are very enthusiastic going in, and they can become quickly discouraged with some of the problems. I think the problems are to be expected, but they can be managed. You need to be patient and take the opportunity to learn.”
Janna Beckerman, professor and extension plant pathologist, Department of Plant Pathology, Purdue University
“... business fundamentals are the core of this game. Love for cannabis, love for the marketplace, love for your customer—all of these things serve your ability to create a consistently profitable enterprise. ... At the end of the day, we have to make successful businesses if we want to see these dreams persist.”
Dan Sutton, CEO/founder, Tantalus Labs
“... be willing to cull plants that are not doing so well. Sometimes, you have to kill plants. You don’t want to have to fight. If something has taken hold that is not good, you need to just start fresh sometimes. Using quality inputs and organic practices can really help with plant health as well.”
Jade Stefano, co-founder and CEO of Puffin Farm and member of the Hemp Grower Editorial Advisory Board
I suppose I should be grateful for the mild winter, but I’ve lived in Ohio long enough to know spring weather could still be a ways off.
In many ways, that’s how I feel about the hemp industry’s full realization. We’re close enough to be excited but still far away from the actual promise.
I see you, ready and willing to roll up your sleeves, eager to learn all you can about hemp. But then some new obstacle arises.
I don’t have control of the weather any more than you do—nor do we have direct control of government regulations, hemp genetics or market demand and supply. These are realities we must deal with as an industry. But we can continue to make progress, and this issue is focused on moving forward.
For the cover story, reporter Paul Barbagallo spoke with the people behind the Hemp Mine, a vertically integrated hemp business based in South Carolina. As former ornamental farmers, they had to carve a niche in a crowded landscape. They’ve brought that same problem-solving approach to hemp by working within their constraints to affect change.
Associate Editor Theresa Bennett interviewed Win Phippen, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Agriculture at Western Illinois University, on his latest research project: tracking down feral hemp across Illinois. Phippen’s journey shows how resilient hemp is—and how much we have left to learn about the crop.
Similarly, columnist Marguerite Bolt, hemp extension specialist at Purdue University in the Department of Agronomy, explains that despite our limited knowledge, we do know it’s important to set up hemp for success. That means monitoring soil conditions, heavy metals and pathogens for a fertile harvest.
As the Hemp Mine co-owner M. Travis Higginbotham Jr. says in our Before You Go department, “2020 is going to be a truly defining year for hemp in the U.S. We don’t quite yet understand what the U.S. market is capable of.”
I do, however, know that we are capable of doing great things with hemp. Let’s dive in to improve the industry, together.
No question exists that the passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill) has opened the doors for a burgeoning U.S. hemp industry to emerge after 82 years of prohibition. However, some are wary of the fact that cannabidiol (CBD), one of the non-intoxicating compounds in the cannabis plant, has captured much of the hemp limelight following the new legislation.
One of the reasons for pause is that hemp farmers who grow for grain and fiber, and for a plethora of end uses, fear that the lack of regulations around CBD may draw unnecessary and potentially negative attention to the plant and its newly reclaimed legal status. And put simply, CBD is in an unclear regulatory state while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does its due diligence on determining the safety and efficacy of CBD. Many businesses are, in the meantime, operating in murky regulatory waters.
Hemp Grower spoke with Joy Beckerman to discuss the FDA’s current position on CBD, how CBD is currently regulated (or not) and what the future may hold for this hemp-derived compound that has captured the attention of the masses.
Beckerman is the principal of Hemp Ace International, which provides professional hemp consulting, legal support and expert witness services. Beckerman, whose hemp career spans more than a quarter century, is also the president of the Hemp Industries Association (HIA), executive vice president of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable (an advocacy organization for hemp CBD and hemp food companies) as well as the regulatory officer and industry liaison for global hemp CBD company Elixinol. She also is part owner of Colorado Hemp Works, a hemp grain processing facility, and is a member of Hemp Grower’s Editorial Advisory Board.
Here are some of Beckerman’s insights.
Noelle Skodzinski: Many question whether the “CBD bubble” will burst as manufacturers face increasing regulatory oversight. One hemp expert I spoke with, for example, cautioned hemp CBD cultivators not to “bet the farm” on CBD due to the FDA’s involvement. Can you share insights about what you’re seeing and expect to happen?
Joy Beckerman: Folks that think they can be making dietary supplements and food and not have to follow state and federal laws are grossly mistaken. That’s not a new thing. That’s reality.
There has always been FDA oversight and, frankly, companies have been in denial that there has been. If you are creating dietary supplements* in the United States of America, you are subject to 21 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) [Part] 111, Current Good Manufacturing Practices for Manufactured Dietary Supplements. And 21 CFR [Part] 101 are labeling requirements for dietary supplements and food. If you are making food and beverage products in the United States of America, you are subject to 21 CFR [Part] 117—the code of regulations for Current Good Manufacturing Practices for Food and Beverage Products.
So, yes, as people come out of denial, they will realize it actually takes a lot to be able to make products lawfully in this country.
And when we say a regulatory framework that the FDA wants to come up with for CBD, it means they basically have to amend or supplement the existing framework (because it already exists).
They now need [additional requirements] for purity and potency. They’re going to have to do it for all the cannabinoids eventually. They’re going to have to decide: This type of purity and potency will be considered a drug, which is a different CFR; [another] purity and potency will be a dietary supplement. How many milligrams is that going to be? And will an isolate be considered a dietary supplement, or are they going to keep that level of purity in a drug? Because Epidiolex is an isolate, and it has already been approved as a drug. And then what is the purity and potency going to be for food and beverage? So those are what we sort of describe as swim lanes: Drugs, dietary supplements [and] food and beverage.
Also, labeling. We may have some additional labeling requirements that will hopefully change with research over time, such as what we’re seeing in the state of California with hysterically-based proposed legislation requiring a “Cannabidiol use while pregnant or breastfeeding may be harmful” warning on the label. And everyone’s endocannabinoid system is different, and so on and so forth.
The laws have been there, and you better step up or you’re going to get sued. And we just saw the first class action suit [Ahumada v. Global Widget LLC] now filed against a CBD company for false potency and disease labeling claims.
So, these folks that are in denial really don’t realize how vulnerable they are to predatory litigation and to FDA violation because it does create public harm when you make claims that you’re not allowed to make for your product.
The FDA has been saying for four years—not six months—on its FAQ page that it is a violation of federal law to market CBD as a dietary supplement or a food.
[*Editor’s Note: For clarification, according to a statement on the FDA’s website, “It is currently illegal … to market CBD as, or in, a dietary supplement. Essentially, the relevant statutory provisions prohibit these uses of CBD because CBD was the subject of substantial clinical investigations into its potential medical uses before it was added to foods (including dietary supplements), and, separately, because CBD is the active ingredient in Epidiolex, an FDA-approved prescription drug product to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy.”]
Here’s the thing: It’s only a guidance position. But when the FDA speaks to state and city departments of health, state departments of ag, it’s like God has spoken. … Until events that are referred to as a Final Determination or a Final Administrative Action have taken place within the FDA on these issues, which have not taken place in CBD thus far, it’s actually not the law. If it were, we’d all be in for a lot more challenges.
That’s why the hemp CBD industry has been able to prosper. Additionally, the FDA has only issued 41 warning letters to CBD companies since February 2015 [out of] the hundreds of brands out there—not cease and desist letters. And none have resulted in … discipline.
So, it is not really a violation of federal law, but it’s creating an untenable situation. And I always told everybody, once we get the [Drug Enforcement Administration] out from under us, the FDA is going to be sitting there waiting for us.
NS: What do you think the next five years will hold for CBD?
JB: I would say that without legislation directing the FDA to follow an expedited time frame, the FDA could end up taking three to five years to figure it out.
The reality is that it’s a very long-term bureaucratic process within the FDA …, and it takes resources … to come up with a regulatory framework.
They may say, “While we’re figuring out our regulatory framework, you can market CBD as a dietary supplement under these conditions and as a food and beverage.” [But] it’s very possible that if they do it at all, they will do it just for dietary supplements. We don’t want that. We want them to include food and beverage. The difference between food and dietary supplements … is when you have a dietary supplement, it says, “Take this much per day.” But if you put CBD into a potato chip or a brownie or a can of seltzer water, [how do you regulate quantity consumed?] I can eat two cans of Pringles, five seltzer waters, three brownies. And whether it’s a dandelion or a cannabis plant, until they get more data and research over that kind of use, then generally they feel more comfortable sticking with dietary supplements.
NS: If the FDA temporarily allows for dietary supplements, do you anticipate enforcement against food and beverage products?
JB: I still don’t think we’re going to see a lot of enforcement. The FDA is very busy and doesn’t have enough funding, like all regulatory agencies, so it has to make priority choices as to how it’s going to use limited resources to enforce. CBD is just not a big candidate for that when in the drug world, people are dying from fentanyl and all these [other opioids].
We may see it at the state level, which would be unfortunate because [states] have additional resources. State enforcement is a larger issue. Retailers do not want to carry items that will be seized.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Noelle Skodzinski is editorial director of Hemp Grower, Cannabis Conference and sister magazines Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary.
The hemp industry is new and exciting for farmers across the county. People are looking at this crop as a golden ticket and, in some cases, as a way to save a family farm. While many new opportunities exist in the hemp industry, farmers with only one growing season under their belts will tell you that hemp production comes with challenges that many prospective farmers may not expect.
I could write a book on all the problems hemp farmers may encounter at some point during their journey, but there are a few huge issues with hemp production that every prospective grower should know about. These issues begin with seeds and clones and grow into poor-quality plants that cause headaches throughout the growing season.
Farmers expect the seeds or plants they purchase to be of a certain quality. Our current standards for seed quality in other crops set the bar high with adequate germination, years of breeding for specific traits and seed labels that match what is in the bag. Because we had such a large gap in hemp production, we do not have the same standards for hemp that we do for other row crops, such as corn or soybeans. While I expect the quality of hemp seeds and clones to improve with time, prospective hemp farmers need to understand the advantages and disadvantages to planting seeds or clones.
Farmers who are planting hemp for grain or fiber will always purchase seeds to plant, but those who want to grow hemp for cannabidiol (CBD) or other cannabinoids and terpenes have to decide whether they want to use seeds or clones.
Growing From Seed
Planting seeds is a favorable option for growers who not only seek to cut costs, but also want the convenience of ordering seeds and planting when conditions are favorable. This allows growers to purchase and store seeds in a cold room ahead of the growing season. Farmers who have seed-planting equipment will want to purchase seeds to use their existing equipment.
One of the most apparent disadvantages we have learned at Purdue University is the low germination rate of hemp seed. The Office of Indiana State Chemist (which is located at Purdue and administers agricultural laws involving animal feeds, fertilizers, pesticides and seeds to ensure truth-in-labeling, food safety, user safety and environmental protection), has performed germination tests on hemp seeds for the last three years, with average germination rates for grain and fiber hemp seeds just under 70%. While we do not have data on average germination rates for feminized seed, we have heard from several Indiana growers that they saw germination rates as low as 50% in controlled indoor facilities. One explanation for low germination could be improper seed storage. Hemp is an oilseed crop and is prone to degradation at high temperatures.
Other issues concerning hemp seeds also exist. Many growers are purchasing feminized seeds—hemp seeds that are mostly females. An issue with feminized seeds is regarding the percentage of males to females. Companies producing feminized seed typically claim 90% or higher feminization; however, this has turned out not to be the case in some instances. This issue came to a head when a Kentucky hemp business filled a $44 million lawsuit against an Oregon hemp seed company in October because the majority of the seeds it received were male, according to The Oregonian.
This is not a stand-alone incident. Data from Cornell University found that the feminized seeds it tested were far from the 98-99% feminization growers find on the seed labels and closer to 50% female. While a 50% female population is typical in a bag of fiber or grain hemp seed, it is a huge problem for growers purchasing feminized seed, where they are typically paying $1/seed.
Genetic instability in hemp seed exists because there was such a large gap in production of hemp grown for grain and fiber, not to mention that CBD production is also relatively new. Many growers are observing a lot of phenotypic diversity within the same cultivar from the same company. These genetic inconsistencies have caused variation in maturity time, the amount of CBD that can be extracted at harvest (percentage-wise), observed disease susceptibility and overall plant size. As breeders work with the same genetics, a refinement of quality and consistency should occur in the hemp industry.
Because new breeders are entering the industry, they may be unfamiliar with standard practices when it comes to selling seed with proper labeling and certificates of analysis (CoA). Growers should receive a lab-based CoA with their seed or clone orders. I have seen seed labels that state the cultivar, germination rate, feminization rate and that the seeds will not produce more than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This is not a lab-based CoA and should be a sign that the seeds will likely not perform in a way that matches the label. State agencies are going to start hammering down on proper CoAs and seed labels, so hopefully we see better labeling and accurate CoAs with future seed orders.
Growing From Clones
Clones or rooted cuttings are a favorable option for growers who want to ensure an all-female population, but they come at a higher cost per plant. Many Indiana growers have paid up to $5 per clone. Farmers need to keep clones alive while waiting for the optimal planting date. What’s more, there have been incidences where growers receive clones that are not all female and were likely cut from male plants. In addition to receiving male plants, many Indiana growers received cuttings that were infested with aphids or mites or had poor root formation.
Phytosanitary practices need to be followed to ensure growers are receiving high-quality hemp that is healthy at the time of transplanting. My advice is that growers always thoroughly inspect clones prior to accepting them and make sure they have a contract protecting them from spending money and accepting infested plants.
Aside from all these issues growers may encounter, with more production predicted in the coming years (the U.S. hemp-derived CBD market is expected to reach $23.7 billion by 2023, up from the current value of $5 billion, according to analytics and research firm Brightfield Group), there could be shortages of seeds and clones, leading to higher costs to produce hemp. However, we may see a higher quantity and quality of seeds and clones as the industry continues to develop.
Most of us will not experience another crop that has grabbed everyone’s attention like hemp. Hemp has the potential to change agriculture by drawing people back to the farm.
While all of this excitement exists, hemp growers should develop a thorough plan to prepare for the issues outlined above as well as changes in a developing market. The hemp industry is growing incredibly fast, but growers should remember that it took decades of breeding and research to get where we are with row crops. I would recommend prospective growers reach out to more experienced hemp farmers to try to identify sources of high-quality seeds and clones. I think we can glean a lot of great information from Canadian farmers, and I often refer growers to Canadian production guides as a way to start learning about production.
With adequate planning and realistic expectations, prospective hemp growers will be better prepared for the 2020 growing season.
Marguerite Bolt is the hemp extension specialist at Purdue University’s Department of Agronomy. She received her M.S. in entomology from Purdue University, and her B.S. in entomology from Michigan State University. Bolt’s research has focused on hemp-insect interactions and plant chemistry.