CYNTHIANA, Ky. — Ananda Hemp, the first facility in the United States to process industrial hemp, opened its doors for an inside perspective on Sept. 28.
The tour included a look at its harvesting practices as well as its oil lab and the future of the company. Created in 2014 by Australian Barry Lambert and Kentuckian Brian Furnish, an eighth-generation farmer, Ananda was the first legal hemp farm in the nation.
“We’re an international company,” explained Lambert at the tour. “We have operations in Uruguay, Australia, Kentucky and California. We do everything from our own seed production to genetics, to production for food, fiber and medicinal purposes.”
Ananda Hemp, which is in its fourth year of production in the U.S. with its parent company, Ecofibre Ltd., has an 18-year operating history in Australia. The latter company has the world’s largest private cannabis seed bank with more than 300 cultivars and ascensions.
The U.S. is currently the No. 1 importer of hemp fiber, most of which it receives from China and Canada. According to a 2005 Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. is the only developed nation that has not developed an industrial hemp crop for economic purposes.
Experts suggest the U.S. market for hemp products is approximately $600 million per year. Currently hemp that is grown can be sold for profit, but only if authorized by a state's agricultural authorities.
The current legalization of hemp goes back to the 2014 farm bill. On Feb. 7 of that year, former President Obama signed the Agricultural Act of 2014 into law. This included Section 7606, Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research, and authorized institutions of higher education or state departments of agriculture in states that have legalized hemp to grow industrial hemp – if it is grown “for purposes of research conducted under an agricultural pilot program or other agricultural or academic research.”
Pilot programs are defined as those to “study the growth, cultivation, or marketing of industrial hemp.” Sites used for growing industrial hemp must be certified by and registered with that state’s department of agriculture, which authorizes and implement regulations to carry out the pilot programs.
Recently, bipartisan legislation was introduced that could invigorate the hemp industry. House Resolution 3530 – the Industrial Hemp Farming Act – was authored by Reps. James Comer and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.). The bill would exempt industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act.
Industrial hemp and marijuana are genetically different cultivars of the same plant species and are distinguished from one another based on their intended use and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels. THC is the main chemical that gives marijuana users their “high.”
While marijuana cultivars typically contain more than 3 percent, to 15 percent, THC by weight, hemp cultivars are bred to contain only trace amounts (less than or equal to 0.3 percent). There are estimated to be more than 25,000 uses for hemp, the most common being textiles, food, cosmetics, plastics, construction materials and biofuel.
Eric Wang, CEO of Ananda Hemp, said some of the most likely to reinvigorate the hemp industry are material blends made with hemp. Besides being fire-retardant, these materials can also conduct electricity. This special attribute could lead to breakthroughs in the fitness, mobile phone and health care industries.
“One thing we are working on right now is a range of high-performance clothing where your shirt can power things like your phone and Fitbit (personal fitness trackers),” he said.
“Health care companies have also come to us to design clothing with something called ‘passive monitoring,’ which can monitor when someone’s heart rate or body temperature go up. This can help prevent things like infections. This can also help with preventative treatments. Hemp can be a real job and industry creator.”
Another aspect of the hemp industry that excites Wang is the number of acres which can turn a profit. “As an example (of performance wear), we are trying to come out with a line of women’s tights. Taking just the economics of it, if you sell them for $50 a pair, and sell a million pairs, that’s $50 million – which only takes 50 acres of hemp. The future (of hemp) is really unbelievable,” he added.