During COVID-19 Crisis, Hemp Could See Resurgence as America's Best Wartime Crop

Carlos Miller | April 13, 2020 | 1:21pm

Before it ends, the coronavirus crisis described by the U.S. government as "our Pearl Harbor moment" will likely kill hundreds of thousands of Americans while the nation sinks further into recession, if not a full-blown depression. Small businesses will shutter. Hourly workers will become homeless. Unemployment will continue to soar, exposing a fragile system left in place after decades of globalization.

Stimulus money might help, but what the United States really needs is a self-sustaining, homegrown commodity that would benefit everyone, from the agricultural farmer to the medical patient, as well as all the clerks and customers in between — not to mention the hospitals and clinics experiencing severe shortages of gloves, facemasks, and gowns.

That commodity would be hemp, a powerhouse of a plant that until recently had been criminalized by the federal government because it is a cannabis derivative, although it does not contain enough THC to get a person high. Legalized at the federal level with the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is expected to become a billion-dollar industry in Florida and has the potential to be a godsend for multigenerational farmers who have suffered economically since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the 1990s.

Florida, in fact, is the only state where hemp can be grown year-round. During the summer, farmers can grow industrial hemp for its fiber, and in winter, they can produce CBD-rich hemp.

"The rest of the United States can only produce 70 percent of what we can produce in Florida," says Glenn Whitworth of Whitworth Farms in Boynton Beach. "We can get four harvests a year when other places are lucky to get two, maybe three."

"The only thing that is going to keep farmers alive is possibly hemp."

Whitworth Farms once boasted the freshest tomatoes in the region but went out of business after it was unable to keep up with cheaper imports from Mexico. Today it is back in operation as a hemp farm through a partnership with Green Point Research, a Florida biotech company that sells bulk cannabinoid extracts to other companies for use in their products.

But if history is any indicator, Whitworth says, the American farmer will probably end up getting screwed once the market becomes saturated with cheaper hemp from abroad. After all, Mexico is preparing to become a major player in the future global market after it legalizes marijuana and hemp, which the country planned to do this month before the virus postponed all legislative action.

"The only thing that is going to keep farmers alive is possibly hemp, and the only thing that is going to keep the hemp industry alive in Florida is making it so the farmer doesn't have to compete with other nations to supply my nation," Whitworth says. "That's an immediate turnoff to farmers."

While the country is on economic lockdown, it might be a good time to rethink the outsourcing of all manufacturing to foreign countries for the sole benefit of shareholders and executives.

"The economy needs to change in a way that's resilient," says David Hasenauer, CEO of Green Point Research. "We need to get back to the idea of localization. And that's where hemp really benefits as a feedstock for all these manufacturing components, whether it's packaging, 3D printing, or making masks and ventilators."

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