Nat Bradford believes hemp has great potential to flower into a major segment of South Carolina’s already robust agriculture economy. Bradford, one of the first 20 farmers selected last year to grow industrial hemp for research purposes in the Palmetto State, says although the hemp he is growing and selecting is for CBD (cannabidiol oil) genetics, he believes hemp’s biggest impact will be with hemp grain and fiber and their expanding uses.
“CBD will eventually level off with a relatively small number of farmers and growers producing CBD crops measured in thousands of acres, whereas the global need for hemp grain and fiber will see hundreds of millions of acres annually,” says Bradford, a seventh-generation farmer in Sumter. “South Carolina farmers are uniquely poised to greatly benefit from the global demand because of its long growing season, allowing the potential of a double crop. Our rich soils and large tracts of flat land throughout the Pee Dee are suited to industrial hemp grand production.”
South Carolina’s advantages, Bradford says, include virtually limitless underground water available at no cost for farmers. That contrasts with other states with expensive water and less rainfall. Bradford also cites proximity to the Port of Charleston for ease of exportation.
Bradford’s first crop focused on hemp trials to determine best genetics for the Southeast, and begin what he says his family is most known for: breeding for the best attributes a plant has to offer.
Industry publication Hemp Industry Daily recently pegged South Carolina as one of several emerging markets in the U.S., and noted that production could boom once the cap of 20 farmers growing the plant is lifted. Update: That cap is gone as of March 28, when Gov. Henry McMaster signed The Hemp Farming Act into law. That followed passage of the federal Farm Bill in late 2018 by Congress, which removed hemp from the controlled substance list.
The Farm Bill’s passage keeps a number of industrial hemp projects moving forward across the nation. In New York, Ontario-based Canopy Growth Corporation — a recent recipient of a $4 billion investment by alcoholic beverage giant Constellation Brands — in January was granted a license by the state to process and produce hemp, and plans to establish a hemp industrial park in the Southern Tier region thanks to supportive policies that include New York’s Hemp Research Pilot Program. The company, currently evaluating sites, plans to invest $100 million to $150 million.
Sound Wellness, a subsidiary of Jushi Inc., plans to invest more than $5 million in a high-tech hemp processing operation on the east side of Buffalo. Jushi expects to create approximately 30-65 jobs in the area. The site will allow Sound Wellness to create advanced product formulations using CBD distillate, CBD isolate, and water-soluble CBD.
In Florida, California-based Youngevity International’s subsidiary Khrysos Industries has closed on land where one of two planned buildings will be dedicated to hemp genetic research with the aim at increasing specific yields of certain cannabinoids. Additionally, the company announced it has leased another Central Florida facility that will serve as the assembly, manufacturing and production facility for Khrysos’ one-ton Hyper Supercritical extraction systems.
How to Cultivate a Sector
Hugh Weathers, South Carolina’s agriculture commissioner, is bullish on hemp, but believes the state’s burgeoning hemp community needs more actionable data before the industry can shift into high gear. He met with several hemp processors in March interested in locating in South Carolina. There are currently about seven operating in the state. The new state law will allow South Carolina to become more competitive with neighboring states such as North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky.
“We want to develop a hemp sector on a smaller scale, but the same way we have developed a tire sector, an automotive sector and an aerospace sector,” Weathers says. But first, some research is needed to fill in the gaps of what he describes as inconsistencies and inaccuracies surrounding hemp.
“We will have our hemp community [ask] the five or six pertinent questions they want answered about hemp and our department will put them out to scientists, economists and consultants,” Weathers says. “I feel like we need to do this for our farmers and processors for 2020 and beyond so South Carolina can be a go-to state to invest in the hemp industry.”
Weathers estimates South Carolina can probably support more than 20 hemp processors once more farmers join the production effort.
This year, Clemson University will grow hemp on five research farms spread across the state. That effort should help pinpoint the best areas for hemp farming, says Weathers, who has visited 18 of the state’s 20 first hemp farms, located in 15 counties.
“We need another growing year to see where the hemp plant is best suited,” Weathers says.