Hemp Growers Farmed Far Fewer Acres Than They Licensed in 2020

As industrial hemp programs continue to develop, disparities between acres licensed and acres grown vary, depending mainly on licensing fee structures.

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February 25, 2021

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Hemp farmers throughout the country only grew a fraction of the acreage they were licensed for in 2020, Hemp Grower has found. But heads of state agriculture departments say that had less to do with market saturation and more to do with state-by-state licensing systems, fees and operating costs.

According to data collected by Hemp Grower, Arizona had the biggest disparity among states whose departments of agriculture tracked and provided statistics for both. Growers in the state planted just 1,130 acres, or 3.3%, of the 34,480 acres that were licensed.

Brian McGrew, the industrial hemp program manager in Arizona, says the disparity was no surprise in his state, where there’s a flat licensing fee of $1,000 for growers no matter how many acres they farm.

“Initially, when a grower will obtain their license, we require that they register their growing locations where they intend on growing hemp,” McGrew says. “It doesn’t mean that they'll be growing all of them in all of those locations. But they do need to register that land area.

“Once you get registered and you get your license, if you do want to change—you know, add additional locations, change locations—there is a process for us where you have to apply for that, and then there’s a fee associated with it. So, it’s better for them if they just go ahead and register where they may possibly be growing hemp.”

In short, many growers in Arizona’s hemp program are traditional farmers who have a lot of acreage, McGrew says. So, they include all of their acreage on applications because of the flat licensing rate—whether a farmer grows hemp on all 5,000 acres he or she may own, or just 20 acres, it costs the same.

Meanwhile, inspection fees that go toward collecting testing samples include a schedule of $25 per acre up to the first 100 acres, and then $5 an acre beyond that, McGrew says. Several other factors also figure into acres planted, including weather trends during growing seasons, he says.

“There [were] a lot of things that did impact 2020,” McGrew says. “It actually is probably the hottest and driest year we had on record. So that really did affect not only with hemp but a lot of other industries dealing with that.

In the Midwest, Minnesota hemp growers planted roughly 4,700 acres, or 56% of the projected 8,400 acres that were licensed, according to Anthony Cortilet, the state’s industrial hemp program supervisor. During the licensing process, Minnesota registers farmers by the number of individual grow locations, no matter how big or small, he says. The fee is $400 for the hemp grower license at one location, and $250 for each additional grow location.

The $400 licensing fee includes the delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) sampling and testing of one variety of hemp, but the department of agriculture collects $125 for each additional variety a grower cultivates in his or her field, which goes toward paying the laboratory costs, Cortilet says.

Overall, the disparities between acres planted and acres grown among Minnesota hemp farmers in 2020 can be attributed to a variety of factors, he says.

“What happens is they get to the actual point where they were going to put stuff in the ground, land contracts fail, or they decide they can’t afford it,” Cortilet says. “So, they might say, ‘I'm going to do 1,000 acres.’ And then they realize how much Cherry Wine costs per seed, or clone, and then they go, ‘Oh, I can’t afford that. I’m going to cut that into a quarter, and that’s what I'm actually going to plant.’ So that’s why you’re getting discrepancies.”

When the market matures and becomes more stable, Cortilet says it’ll likely result in a more accurate dataflow.

In Tennessee, hemp growers planted 4,836 acres in 2020, or 30.8% of the 15,722 acres that were licensed. The state department of agriculture has a staggered licensing fee system, like Minnesota, but the differences in costs are minimized to $50 increments: 5 acres or fewer is $250; between 5 and 20 acres is $300; and 20-plus acres is $350.

When it comes to disparities between acres licensed and acres planted, Kim Doddridge, the public information officer at the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, says it is important to remember that hemp data is dynamic, and growers’ situations vary.

“Simply, growers have different business plans,” she says. “Some growers operate on the tobacco model, some have niche business goals, some are contract growers, some grow for personal reasons and some grow for research. How much is finally planted is a combination of factors such as the reason for growing and the cost. And, growers consider the amount of ground designated for growing and make sure it is in line with their plans to plant. In other words, growers may not grow outside of their licensed acres but can grow on as little as they choose on those licensed acres.”

While Doddridge said it’d be difficult to speculate about the future hemp market, she also said as the industry evolves and adapts to changes, the numbers will follow.

In addition to Arizona and Tennessee, other states that licensed large acreage amounts with less than 40 percent planted include Kentucky, 32,000 acres licensed; New York, 31,000 acres licensed; Kansas, 9,925 acres licensed; and Indiana, 8,751 acres licensed.

Colorado, which has one of the largest industrial hemp programs, planted 27,092 acres in 2020, or 71.6% of the 37,741 acres it licensed. Meanwhile Connecticut planted 156 acres, or 90.7% of the 172 acres it licensed, and Iowa planted 680 acres, or 92.8% of the 733 acres it licensed in the first year of its program.

Among the states whose departments of agriculture tracked and provided statistics to Hemp Grower, Iowa had the smallest disparity between acres licensed and grown. That could be a factor of a staggered licensing fee system that includes an incremental base rate plus a per-acre rate within each licensing bracket.

In Iowa, licensing fees for 5 acres or fewer of crop include a $500 base rate plus a $5 fee per acre; 5.1 to 10 acres include a $750 base rate plus a $5 fee per acre; and 10.1 to 40 acres include a $1,000 base rate plus a $5 fee per acre.

“I can’t crystal ball the exact answer, but keep in mind that if someone replanted, that acreage was counted each time, so a replant situation makes up for those that did not plant,” says Robin Pruisner, a state entomologist and agriculture security coordinator at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

While 86 hemp licenses were issued by Iowa in 2020, 10 licensees did not plant hemp for a total of 144 acres that were originally projected. But, as Pruisner pointed out, some sites were planted twice.

Click here for more state-by-state cultivation data from 2020, including licensed producers, acres planted and more.