US farmers turn to hemp as trade war rages

Global Business

In the gently rolling farmland of southern Virginia, there are the traditional crops like soybean, corn and tobacco. Lately a new crop is popping up as well: marijuana’s straight-laced cousin hemp.

CGTN’s Jim Spellman reports.

Hemp is a type of cannabis. It’s similar to marijuana but hemp has only a tiny fraction of THC- the compound that creates marijuana’s mood-altering effects.

For more than 30 years John Boyd and his wife Kara have grown soybean, wheat and hay and raised beef cattle. It hasn’t always been easy, but now they’re facing their biggest challenge: the U.S.-China trade war that has dramatically cut the price of soybeans.

“When the bottom plummeted out of soybean I realized I needed to do something because I still have a mortgage payment, I have kids in college, I have all this overhead so I said hemp. Let’s try our hand at planting hemp,” said John Boyd.

The Boyd’s began by getting a license from the state and buying seeds from a supplier in Colorado. They modified an old planter to operate with the tiny seeds and got to work.

In early August the Boyd’s planted about 30 acres of hemp. In about three months they estimate each plant will be 2-3 meters tall. The crop is then processed into a variety of products.

“A lot of people are more familiar with marijuana and all the money is associated with that, but we wanted to go with the hemp side of it because we thought about it as an agricultural product that has more than 25,000 uses,” said Kara Boyd.

The fibers are used for fabric. The seeds go into foods. The extracted oil – known as cannabidiol or CBD- is used in pain relief products. Advocates tout CBD as an effective treatment for a range of conditions, but the U.S. government has so far only approved one drug derived from the plant – an anti-seizure medication. Most of the claimed benefits are still unproven.

At the moment, there is high demand for hemp but few suppliers – the exact opposite of soybeans. The Boyd’s admit there is a lot of uncertainty about hemp, but the trade war shows no sign of ending anytime soon and they hope this is a crop that’s here to stay.

“I’m hopeful it will bring us out of this despair that America’s farmers are facing right now. This is a bad time in history for agriculture. It’s a bad time in history for America’s farmers,” Boyd said.