In a last minute addition to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has submitted an amendment that would legalize
the production of industrial hemp, a potential new bumper crop for U.S. farmers.
“Industrial hemp is used in many healthy and sustainable consumer products. However, the federal prohibition on growing industrial hemp has forced
companies to needlessly import raw materials from other countries,” Wyden said in prepared text. “My amendment to the Farm Bill will change
federal policy to allow U.S. farmers to produce hemp for these safe and legitimate products right here, helping both producers and suppliers to grow
and improve Oregon’s economy in the process.”
Allowing American farmers to produce industrial hemp, which is different from its more notorious cousin marijuana, would yield significant and
immediate profits the first year, according to an analysis conducted in 1998 (PDF) by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University
Researchers found that farmers in the state of Kentucky alone could see between $220 to $605 in net profits per acre of hemp. Adjusted for inflation
using the consumer price index, those 1998 dollars would actually be worth $310 and $854 today, although the study’s authors note that variables in
supply and demand for hemp could change that valuation.
The average price farmers are getting on an acre of corn, which has been falling thanks to relatively strong supply this year, clocked in at roughly
$921 according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures out last week, but their overall take drops significantly due to the costs of
production, leaving them in the $200 range on net profits. While a legalized hemp industry would likely never become as essential to Americans as
corn, the potential for a high value crop and hundreds of millions, if not billions, in new economic activity is clear.
“This is the first time since the 1950s that language supporting hemp has come to the floor of the House or Senate for a vote. The last time such
language was presented was the Miller’s Amendment to the Marihuana Tax Act,” Eric Steenstra, president of the advocacy group Vote Hemp, said in an
advisory. “The time is past due for the Senate as well as President Obama and the Attorney General to prioritize the crop’s benefits to farmers
and to take action… With the U.S. hemp industry valued at over $400 million in annual retail sales and growing, a change in federal policy to allow
hemp farming would mean instant job creation, among many other economic and environmental benefits.”
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