Advocates celebrate inclusion of hemp in USDA’s Census of Agriculture

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Image of a hemp field

(Photo by Rick Lohre/stock.adobe.com)

Advancing the federal regulation of hemp and other cannabis industry priorities will be easier now that hemp has its own category in the USDA’s Census of Agriculture, hemp cultivators and stakeholders say.

Joshua Bates, a U.S. Department of Agriculture statistician, said it’s difficult to understate the impact of hemp’s inclusion in the 2022 Ag Census, which was released Tuesday and is updated every five years.

“The most prominent result is hemp data published at the county level, as well as the number of farms growing hemp, data that are not collected and available for the annual National Hemp Report,” Bates said in an interview with MJBizDaily.

“The Census is a holistic data collection of every aspect of the farm, making special tabulations and further research into the health of the industry possible.”

In addition to state- and county-specific data, the Ag Census broke down field crop and nursery data into categories.

For field crops, the Ag Census noted that in 2022, there were:

Number of hemp farms Acreage Pounds
215 for hemp fiber 5,841 11.1 million
1,893 for floral (CBD and other cannabinoids) 10,557 11 million
70 for hemp grain 3,164 886,702
125 for other purposes 196 215,744

For nursery crops (starter materials), the Census recorded:

Number of hemp farms Square Feet
252 for clones or transplants 1.4 million
673 complete grows 3.5 million
97 seed farms 553,975

“The challenge with this data is we don’t really see what happened in prior years,” Jonathan Miller, general counsel of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, told MJBizDaily.

“And we do know that there’s been a significant decline in growth.”

That decline stems largely from a lack of federal regulation of hemp-derived products, Miller said, noting that the U.S. Hemp Roundtable and other nonprofit organizations are still working toward such oversight.

Last year’s National Hemp Report estimated there was a 48% decline in industrial hemp acreage in 2022 compared to 2021 and a 66% drop in floral hemp acreage during the same period.

The USDA describes floral hemp as an ingredient in “supplements, skin creams and shampoos, among other products containing cannabidiol, better known as CBD.”

Miller said the USDA’s Census of Agriculture shows that while floral hemp previously made up the majority of hemp production in the United States, that’s no longer the case.

“Now, it looks like it’s just a little bit above 50%,” Miller said.

“In 2019 and 2020, we were looking at numbers like 80% or 90%.”

Hemp’s untapped potential

The decline isn’t unique to hemp.

During a Tuesday event commemorating the Ag Census’ data release, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack noted that, in 2022, the total number of farms in the country had declined by more than 142,000 and there were 20 million fewer acres of farmland since the 2017 report.

“As a country, are we OK with losing that many farms? Are we OK with losing that much farmland?” he asked. “Or is there a better way?”

Geoff Whaling, chair of the National Hemp Association, told MJBizDaily he hopes to demonstrate there’s still plenty of room to grow the number of hemp farms – particularly when it comes to industrial hemp.

By breaking down hemp production into categories in the Ag Census, Whaling said, it will be easier to show why there should be separate rules for industrial hemp growers versus cannabinoid producers.

“Why should a farmer who grows corn and soy, who wants to adopt a rotation of hemp into his farmlands, have to go and give us fingerprints through an FBI background check and subject every 10 acres to testing?” Whaling asked.

“They don’t do that for any other commodity like corn or soybean. That is one of the big barriers.”

State and county data

Lukas Gilkey, co-founder of Texas-based Hometown Hero CBD, told MJBizDaily that hemp’s inclusion in the Ag Census underscores the plant’s burgeoning role in the national economy.

“As we expand our product offerings and national distribution to meet increasing demand for hemp-derived THC and cannabidiol-based products, we will continue to support the farming community in our home state of Texas and across the country, as sales of hemp-derived cannabinoids average more than $28 billion annually.”

Texas had 20 farms growing hemp for fiber. That’s the highest of any other state, although Missouri had the largest number of acres devoted to hemp for fiber, at 1,302.

North Dakota farms grew hemp for grain on 214,000-plus acres in the state – more than any other market – while South Dakota recorded the highest number of farms at 1,449.

As for CBD and other cannabinoids, of the 1,893 farms producing floral hemp, Oregon was home to 233 of them in 2022.

But California produced the most hemp for CBD and other cannabinoids, cultivating more than 6.2 million pounds that year.

Gilkey said the appetite for hemp-derived cannabinoids is growing and that communities such as military veterans are still gaining access to the plant.

According to Whaling, hemp’s potential is well-known among many in the federal administration.

“It’s just, how do we get it on the radar? You know, this is the beginning,” Whaling said.

“The fact that hemp is included in the Census is a recognition that this truly is one of America’s commodities.”

Kate Robertson can be reached at kate.robertson@mjbizdaily.com.

Andrew Long contributed to this report.