UVM: Industrial Hemp Research Program
The UVM Extension’s Northwest Crops & Soils Program started an industrial hemp research program in 2016. The 2014 Farm Bill has allowed academic institutions, like UVM, to legally develop research programs to evaluate industrial hemp as a commercial crop and we see that as a great opportunity in an emerging market. Without publicly available research, farmers are unlikely to gain crucial production knowledge and will be left out of this market opportunity. Farmers in the region already face huge challenges from unpredictable weather, low commodity prices, and increasing pest and disease pressure – industrial hemp has the potential to diversify their production and increase economic resiliency.
Industrial hemp is a historical crop. It is estimated that hemp was first cultivated in China between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago, making it one of the first cultivated crops. It was brought to the U.S. in 1645 and was a major crop until the 1940s, used in making paper (it is said that the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence were printed on hemp paper), cloth (the first U.S. flag and first pair of jeans were made of hemp), and ropes and sails used by the U.S. Navy. Currently, hemp is being used for cosmetics, foods, fiber, building materials, biofuel, and soil remediation. The North American hemp market is currently estimated at over $400 million in retail sales and growing at about 10% per year. Clearly, there is demand for hemp and we would like to help farmers and processors in Vermont and throughout the Northeast evaluate this opportunity and promote sustainable practices for this agricultural crop.