Hemp Has Been Added to USDA Farm Data

Nearly 25 years ago, I was asked to evaluate the economic opportunity for growing industrial hemp in my role as economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation.  I wrote one rather concise report and distributed to all the state offices.  It appeared that there were economic opportunities in forging ahead for the fiber production of cannabis sativa for production agriculture.  There were also some significant barriers to success that were important to also consider.

In the few weeks between the release of my internal report and the annual policy making meeting at AFBF, an article came out in a recreational cannabis magazine that reported the Farm Bureau supported cannabis production.  This did not go over well.  And, at least at that time, the American Farm Bureau moved away from supporting hemp production.

Twenty years later, hemp production became legalized in the federal, 2018 Farm Bill.  And it made me smile, because of my brief assignment into hemp production, that the land grant university where I worked, University of Missouri-Extension, began teaching farmers how to grow hemp in their extension guides.  And now, U.S. farm production data has made it into the USDA, Census of Agriculture (Table 25 of the State-level reports).  I enjoy watching the threads of my career be woven together as we all figure the future out together.

USDA reports that hemp production was included in the 2017 Census of Agriculture, but it was not identified as an individual crop.  So in 2022, there were 11 million pounds of hemp fiber, as well as products produced from the flowers like CBD.  There were another million pounds of products in grain and other uses.  I find it interesting that fiber production is second to CBD production in acres, farms, and the number of states in which hemp was grown.

It is also interesting to me that this does not report cannabis that is produced for medicinal or recreational markets.  Interesting because there is policy discord between state and federal laws in these areas.  But hemp grown on U.S. farms for approved industrial uses is now part of our farm production story.  The new data begins to provides some answers to an  even large pool of questions, which will come to light as we move down this frontier together.