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Hemp harvest in Arkansas gives CBD a lift

While Arkansas’ medical marijuana industry has begun to take shape in a very public way, marijuana’s tamer cousin is quietly taking off.

A pair of hemp farmers harvested the state’s first legal yields, and the first processor has extracted the first batch of the substance that makes this new crop so valuable — cannabidiol, better known as CBD.

Industry experts expect the CBD market in Arkansas to explode over the next five years, and some farmers hope they’ve found their newest cash crop.

CBD oils, tinctures, gummies, vapes and a variety of other infused products from out of state have already begun flooding shelves in Arkansas smoke shops, convenience stores and health boutiques.

But knowing exactly what’s in those products can be difficult, if not impossible. Producers in Arkansas hope that locally sourced CBD will offer consumers more products that improve their lives and give them peace of mind at the same time.

CBD is a cannabinoid — one of the chemical compounds derived from cannabis plants. It’s found in hemp and, yes, marijuana. The difference between hemp and marijuana is the percentage of another cannabinoid — delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC, the compound that makes a person high.

Hemp, according to the U.S. government’s definition, must contain less than 0.3% THC.

The difference between hemp and marijuana is like the difference between whiskey and nonalcoholic beer, said Lejen Lotspeich, chief scientific officer of New Age Hemp, Arkansas’ first operating hemp processor.

“You can drink as many O’Doul’s as you want to get a buzz, but all you’re going to get is a stomachache,” Lotspeich said. “You can smoke as much hemp as you want to try and get high, but all you’re going to get is a headache.”

CBD doesn’t have the intoxicating effect of THC, but its loyalists swear by its healing properties. CBD retailers must be careful; they’re barred from making certain claims about the substance’s health benefits because it hasn’t gone through U.S. Food and Drug Administration trials.

Research on CBD’s effects is limited, in part because hemp was a federally controlled substance until last year, but studies in other countries have found that CBD does show anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to block oxidative stress. The National Center for Biotechnology Information defines oxidative stress as “a disturbance in the balance between the production of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) and antioxidant defenses.”

Inflammation and oxidative stress are two of the common components in a variety of chronic diseases.

Scientists are studying whether CBD can treat certain autism disorders and brain cancers.

Still, most evidence remains anecdotal, and CBD users have reported what sounds like a miracle drug that treats issues including pain, anxiety, epilepsy, nausea and hangovers.

Nick Landers, CEO of New Age Hemp and a longtime pharmacist, tried CBD as an alternative treatment for his back pain. It worked so well that he stopped taking his prescription medication, he said.

“I’m a guinea pig because I’m not going to put a product on the market that I haven’t tried myself,” Landers said.

Landers no longer practices pharmacy, though his license remains active. But he said he wished that he’d been able to recommend CBD products to patients who were prescribed and later became addicted to opioids.

The Arkansas Agriculture Department started its Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program after the General Assembly passed legislation authorizing it in 2017. The department has licensed 80 hemp farmers to grow on more than 1,898 acres in 42 counties. It has issued 18 processor licenses to extract CBD from the plants.

The yields to this point have been extremely small, harvested from plants grown in greenhouses. The agency expects the first flood of harvests in early fall.

Caleb Allen, the state Plant Board’s industrial hemp program manager, expects most Arkansas-grown hemp to be processed for its CBD. The plant can also be processed for its fiber to be used in ropes and other textiles.

“I think years down the road, fiber and grain processing will see some profit,” he said.

Kelly Carney is owner of North Pulaski Farms, a small grower of organic fruits and vegetables. He got a license to grow hemp because he saw it as an opportunity to supplement his farm, which has seen margins thin.

“I think for a small farmer, there is a window of opportunity to make some money since [hemp] is so new,” he said.

Carney is growing high-quality flower from which a processor will extract CBD. He expects it to be his most profitable crop this year.

“It will allow me to keep growing heirloom tomatoes,” he said.

From the farm, the hemp moves to a processor like Lotspeich or Kindle Lancaster of Helping Everyone Make Progress in Dardanelle.

The CBD is extracted by going through an ethanol wash. Then the ethanol is evaporated off, and the CBD is further purified into a distillate.

From there, it can be infused into oils, tinctures, creams and a host of other consumables.

So far, New Age Hemp has developed oil that can be ingested or rubbed into the skin. The company is reaching out to retailers, hoping to soon make products available to the public.

Helping Everyone Make Progress plans to sell its purified CBD to other processors and will process some consumer products itself to be sold from its location at the base of Mount Nebo, said Lancaster.

Lancaster, who also has a growing license, is planting about 22,000 hemp seeds. She has had a hip replacement, and she said CBD products have helped her manage joint pain.

“I think this will very much take off,” she said of the hemp industry. “I don’t see it slowing down any at all for the next five to eight years.”

The Hemp Business Journal estimated that the hemp-derived CBD market totaled about $190 million in 2018, and the market is projected to reach $22 billion over the next five years.

The problem for consumers is that the processed CBD is largely unregulated. In Arkansas, state regulation ends with the state Plant Board’s testing to ensure THC levels don’t exceed 0.3%. The FDA is currently assessing how it should regulate CBD.

The FDA held an all-day hearing Friday — with 120 speakers scheduled to talk for a few minutes apiece — to learn more about products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds and hear suggestions on how the agency should regulate them and the products they are in. The FDA also is taking public comments online until July 2.

A 2017 University of Pennsylvania study found that almost 70 percent of CBD products were inaccurately labeled, claiming CBD levels that didn’t match with lab analyses.

Lotspeich said the consumer’s only recourse presently is to do the homework. On a recent tour of New Age Hemp’s lab, the company offered a copy of its product’s most recent lab analysis, which it says it will supply to anyone who asks.

The analysis, conducted by F.A.S.T. Laboratories and Research of Greenbrier on May 9, shows that New Age Hemp’s isolate is 99.9% CBD with no traceable amount of THC.

For now, CBD users and producers will wait on the science to catch up. And some, like Lancaster, are also waiting on public opinion to change.

Many still don’t know the difference between hemp and marijuana, as Lancaster found out when she told her church group about plans to begin growing hemp.

“I tell everybody this is Mary Jane’s good sister,” Lancaster said. “She doesn’t party.”

Hemp harvest in Arkansas gives CBD a lift While Arkansas’ medical marijuana industry has begun to take shape in a very public way, marijuana’s tamer cousin is quietly taking off. A pair of

UAPB News

Official source for current news and information at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

Industrial Hemp Production is Lucrative, but Arkansas Producers Should Start Small

Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences

Dameion White, Extension associate for UAPB, examines a hemp plant on a farm in southern Arkansas.

Interest in growing industrial hemp for cannabidiol (CBD) oil is increasing among small farmers because of the crop’s profit potential, Dr. Henry English, head of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Small Farm Program, said. The projected income of over $25,500 per acre is higher than the projected income for any row or vegetable crop.

Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis stative plant, Dr. English said. Marijuana is a variety of the same plant, but the two are different, scientifically and legally. Industrial hemp contains a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) level of less than 0.3 percent, which means people who consume it do not experience a “high” or any psychoactive symptoms.

“Growing industrial hemp is legal but requires annual licensing from the Arkansas State Plant Board,” he said. “The crop is grown primarily for use in the production of grain, fiber and CBD oil. Ninety percent of producers grow the crop for CBD oil, which is used in a variety of products, including medical products.”

To get started growing industrial hemp, a producer first needs to obtain his or her growers license from the Arkansas Agriculture Department (AAD). Growers can find application requirements for licenses on the AAD website at www.agriculture.arkansas.gov/hemp-home.

The application process requires obtaining a letter of intent (LOI) from a processor or buyer who will indicate they plan to purchase or buy the producer’s hemp crop. Other requirements include getting a background check and identifying the intended field location with latitude and longitude coordinates.

Dr. English said the estimated income per acre for industrial hemp comes from a Kentucky enterprise budget on industrial hemp (CBD plasticulture model). The projected revenue of one acre was $36,000, based on an expected Dry Matter Yield of 1,200 pounds per acre at a price of $30 per pound (selling plants with a CBD oil content of 6 percent at $5 for each percent of CBD).

In the study, the variable or input cost – for license fees, transplants, fertilizer, disk harrowing, plastic mulch and drip irrigation – was estimated at $10,400, bringing the return above variable cost to $25,594.

“Industrial hemp can be lucrative, but there are several things to consider before growing it,” Dr. English said. “For one, the crop requires manual labor. If you do not have manual labor available for harvest, you could end up losing your entire crop.”

So far, there are only a few pesticides available for the control of weeds, insects and diseases as it relates to industrial hemp. Those that are available are mainly organic and do not adequately control pests.

“Irrigation is highly recommended since transplants cost $5,000 per acre,” Dr. English said. “This will keep the plants healthy and from being stressed. If the plants get stressed, their Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) level may go over the legal limit of 0.3 percent, which means the plants would have to be destroyed.”

Dr. English said it is also important that producers consider the following soil health factors before planting hemp:

  • Soil residual herbicides. These herbicides persist in the soil to control weeds over a certain length of time. Most have a plant-back interval that indicates the number of months (usually 1-18 months) needed before another specific crop such as hemp can be planted without being damaged by the current applied herbicide. If the plant-back interval has not passed, the newly-planted hemp crop could be damaged by the herbicide that was applied last year and either die or produce poor yields.
  • Soil pH level. Industrial hemp grows best on loamy soils with a soil pH level of 6 to 7. If the soil pH is lower than the recommended level (a pH of 5 or below), producers should amend the soil with lime and wait until the next year to plant. If the soil is clay-based, producers should consider growing on another field.
  • Soil compaction layer. If this layer is 6 to 8 inches thick, a plant’s roots may not be able to penetrate it, restricting its ability to obtain water or nutrients below. Before planting, producers should first dig into the soil to check whether there is a compacted layer. If the compacted layer is thick, it should be broken up through deep tillage or the application of cover crops.

Dr. English said industrial hemp is planted from May through mid-July and harvested in the fall. Crops that are planted later are often subjected to more insects and a greater risk of detrimental fall rains.

Those who process and buy industrial hemp can offer advice on varieties of hemp seed and where to purchase transplants, Dr. English said. If using seeds rather than transplants, producers should remember that half the plants will be male, and half will be female.

“The male plants must be removed before the release of any pollen,” he said. “If using feminized seed, 25 percent of the plants will be male, and 75 percent will be female. Again, the male plants should be removed. Only clone plants are all female, and they are more expensive than natural seeds.”

Producers who want to try their hand at growing industrial hemp should start small, Dr. English said.

“Since this is a new crop, Extension production recommendations for Arkansas are not yet available,” he said. “Producers can consider starting off by planting one acre.”

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all of its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences Interest in growing industrial hemp for cannabidiol (CBD) oil is increasing among small farmers because of the crop’s profit potential, Dr. Henry English, head of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Small Farm Program, said. The projected income of over $25,500 per acre is higher than…