Turning From Tobacco to Cannabis

Farming Hemp Again

Hemp farming is not new to the U.S. It’s just been gone a while. The U.S. had a rich history of growing hemp commercially. But in the first part of the 20th century, the government began to demonize marijuana, and hemp got lumped in with its psychoactive cousin.

True they are related, but hemp is a different plant than marijuana. It’s non-psychoactive, containing only .3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—an amount that can’t get you high. Hemp also has many industrial, nutritional, and health-related uses. Even though it had been entirely prohibited in a state-by-state trend by the late 1930s, the government encouraged U.S. farmers to grow it again during World War II in a campaign called “Hemp for Victory.” They needed hemp for naval supplies. All our hemp rope was imported at the time, and our supplies had been cut off. But after the war, hemp production was once again shut down.

So why farm hemp now?  And why are tobacco farmers especially turning from tobacco to hemp?

It Makes Economic Sense

Tobacco farming is not nearly as profitable as it once was. High taxes and anti-smoking campaigns have caused domestic demand to plummet, and federal price supports are nonexistent.

Tobacco farmers will have to diversify if they want to survive.

Brian Furnish, Director of Global Production of Ananda Hemp and eighth generation tobacco farmer, says that industrial hemp is ideal for tobacco farmers looking for another crop to grow. A tobacco farmer will already have most of the necessary equipment to farm industrial hemp.

Hemp grows well just about anywhere with fewer resources. To put that into perspective, hemp requires half the water of wheat and provides four times the income. Compared to cotton, which can take over 5,000 gallons to produce only 2.2 pounds, hemp takes less than 700 gallons to produce the same amount. It’s naturally pest and weed resistant, requiring less input from farmers while keeping the crop contaminant free. It makes an excellent rotational crop that takes anywhere from 70 to 140 days, growing at a rate of 4 inches a day in some cases. On top of all that, it’s fairly easy to process for the many products it can be used for.

In 2017, U.S. hemp imports—consisting of seeds and fibers for manufacturing—were $67.3 million. U.S. sales of hemp products were $700 million in 2016. You can imagine how tobacco farmers would like to fill the demand for that industrial hemp. And the demand for industrial hemp is only going to go up, thanks especially to the increasing awareness of the health benefits of hemp-derived cannabinoids.

Which brings us to the next reason for farmers to turn from farming tobacco to hemp.

Hemp is Healthy

The market for tobacco has fallen because of its negative associated health risks. But cannabidiol (CBD) is becoming a household name and is correcting the negative perception of industrial hemp through the many health and therapeutic benefits that it offers.

CBD is found in the stalk, the seeds and the flower of the hemp plant. It occurs in large quantities in the plant, quite unlike the hundreds of other cannabinoids that exist. Because of this property, it is quite easy to extract it into an oil.

So far the CBD industry is on track to hit $591 million in 2018. According to cannabis industry analysts from the Brightfield Group, it’s projected to hit $22 billion by 2022.

The Challenges Along the Way

Thanks to many advocates and factors, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a lot has been accomplished in the last four years to bring industrial hemp back to the U.S. farm culture. The path actually began before that in Kentucky, in 2012, when then Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer helped lay the legislative groundwork for bringing the hemp industry back to Kentucky. But to get hemp seeds in the ground, the federal government had to be on board.

So, the state turned to its Senator and Republican Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. McConnell cleared the way for Kentucky farmers to grow hemp by inserting key language in the 2014 Farm Bill. He made sure state agriculture departments, along with colleges and universities, had the right to grow and study hemp.

Four years later, now Representative James Comer, among others, is working in Washington to pass legislation that will continue to assist farmers with farming hemp.

In the time since 2014, Brian Furnish became the first farmer to grow industrial hemp in the U.S. again. Ananda Hemp is now up and rolling in Kentucky and proudly partners with its parent company, Ecofibre, in Australia. Ecofibre has nearly two decades of research, development, and a store of superior hemp seeds sourced from countries all over the world. Ananda Hemp provides high-quality, rigorously tested full spectrum CBD that is contaminant-free.

But the first year of farming for Furnish was slow to start. The DEA held up Ananda’s first batch of seeds from Ecofibre in Australia, and they had to go to court to lay the framework for proper state permits for importing seeds. There is also all the red tape for the newly laid regulations regarding hemp farming. Everything had to be recorded. Anyone involved had to go through background checks. Every field is subject to GPS when planted, and THC tests are done to each field as well.

So far, hemp farming is looking good for Kentucky farmers and is showing real potential for other farmers and states looking for a winning alternative to tobacco. Hemp has returned to the U.S. and is proving to be a solution for farmers looking to diversify.


Garber-Paul, E. “Exclusive: New Report Predicts CBD Market Will Hit $22 Billion by 2022. Rolling Stone. 11 September 2018. Web. Accessed 21 November 2018. https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/new-study-cbd-market-22-billion-2022-722852/

Booker, C. “Why Kentucky farmers are quitting tobacco and turning to an unlikely new crop.” PBS NewsHour. 17 October 2015. Web. Accessed 21 November 2018. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/kentucky-agriculture-banking-hemp

“The Growing Potential of Growing Hemp.” Eco Farming Daily. 30 March 2018. Web. Accessed 17 November 2018. 

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