Rick Trojan thinks marijuana has given cannabis a bad name it doesn’t deserve, so he’s launched a nationwide mission to repair its damaged reputation. In June, his Hemp Road Tour stopped in Visalia between visits to major hemp manufacturers and meetings with legislators who can help change the way the plant is viewed by the law.
Industrial hemp, the variety of cannabis which doesn’t produce enough of the active ingredient THC to cause a high, is just as illegal as its intoxicating cousin. That, says Trojan, is a shame, because the plant could revolutionize agriculture and manufacturing. And there’s a lot of money to be made.
Trojan isn’t a run-of-the-mill cannabis advocate. He’s a partner in Colorado Cultivars, the nation’s largest industrial hemp grower. The company is farming 1,500 acres in Eaton, Colorado this season, and though it’s only the second crop, Colorado Cultivars will make a profit this year. The future, says Trojan, holds much promise.
“We did a yield, talking to farmers in Iowa, corn versus hemp, and if you just sold industrial hemp for the seed, the food side of it, you would make four to seven times more than they were making with corn,” he said. “And, that’s corn subsidized. Corn unsubsidized you would be actually losing money as a farmer, so hemp gives farmers, even small farmers, a real opportunity to make a real living.”
Along with the seed, hemp also produces a valuable fiber crop. Other food and fodder crops do not.
Following the Primaries
Hemp, Trojan says, has the potential save water, reduce pesticide use and revitalize the soil, but the nation’s drug laws are keeping this lucrative, beneficial crop out of the hands of growers. Despite the federal ban on growing it, hemp products are widely available in the United States. They are even manufactured here, but the easily and cheaply produced raw materials must be imported. Colorado Cultivars is able to do business because of that state’s legalization efforts.
That Byzantine twist of the law is what prompted Trojan to launch the Hemp Road Tour and follow the presidential primary election around the country. Trojan and his cohorts think it’s time to change the laws stifling their nascent industry.
“What really got me started is back in October we grew 300 acres of hemp for CBD (a hemp oil derivative with reported health benefits),” Trojan said. “I could make that CBD, then I couldn’t ship it outside the state line because of the federal classification as a drug. But, my buddy down the street could buy that CBD from Denmark, put it in the exact same formulation and ship it nationwide.”
Changing the Law
Already the federal view on hemp is changing. In 2013, the federal government officially recognized a distinct difference between the kind of cannabis used as a drug and the hemp grown for fiber, food and other building and manufacturing materials.
“The Farm Act of 2013, it defined industrial hemp as 0.3% THC or less,” said Trojan. “It’s the same plant. There’s high-THC cannabis and low-THC cannabis.”
Lawmakers are now poised to change the law that has kept farmers from freely growing hemp. The Hemp Road Tour is intended to help push for support for that change.
“The Industrial Hemp Act has 14 sponsors on the Senate side and 69 on the House side,” Trojan said. “That’s our nearest bill to move forward, so that’s what we’re pushing for. I decided to buy a bus and go shake hands and follow the primaries and try to make it an issue.”
Trojan’s Hemp Road Tour only made a whistle-stop in Visalia between visits with legislators and the state’s largest hemp industry players from San Diego to the Bay Area. As a partner in Colorado Cultivars, Trojan represents the largest grower of industrial hemp in the nation. The company is currently farming in Eaton, Colorado, to produce seeds, oil and herd, the soft, woody internal tissue of the plant that has a variety of uses in manufacturing and construction. The company also constructed its own processing plant to make CBD, and the partners plan to continue its expansion.
Finding a market is not a problem for Trojan’s company. A brokerage system is already in place to satisfy the large global markets for their products. Hemp should soon take its place along with corn and pig bellies on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
“That infrastructure’s being established right now. There’s a couple different exchange entities out there,” Trojan said. “Eventually, it will go onto the same exchange as corn, wheat and barley. It will be in Chicago.”
Benefits of Hemp
Not only does hemp have the potential to be a big moneymaker, it’s also extremely beneficial to the soil. As a phytoremediant, hemp removes contaminants from the soil as it grows. The plant drops a very deep tap root, aerating and tilling the soil naturally, thus avoiding carbon and nutrient loss. It also increases yields when used in crop rotation.
“What it does, particularly for California with the drought and those sort of things, I think it gives farmers an alternative,” Trojan said. “The drought’s a big issue. Cotton uses a lot more water than hemp, for example. The inputs are substantially lower for hemp.”
Hemp also returns more usable fiber per acre than cotton at that lower cost.
Humans have been growing cannabis for tens of thousands of years, and only within the last century has it developed its bad reputation, due in large part to the largely impotent and increasingly dysfunctional War on Drugs. During that time, the plant has evolved to become extremely useful on the farm. Studies have shown significant yield increases when hemp is used during the fallow season.
“The tap roots are thick. They go about 8 feet deep, so it aerates the soil,” Trojan said. “It increases corn yields 6% to 8%. It increases tobacco yields 25% to 30%. So, it’s a valuable crop just as a rotational, but if you just sell it purely for the seeds you’re going to make more money than with corn.”
Hemp is also being used to clean up radioactive contamination at the sites of the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdowns.
“It’s a phytoremediant, so if there’s a bunch of crap in the soil, it’ll suck all that crap out of the soil,” said Trojan. “So if you’ve got a bunch of Roundup or pesticide and you need to rejuvenate the soil, plant hemp.”
Getting Past Old Thinking
Even with the evidence of hemp’s benefits on his side, Trojan is still running into roadblocks in the form of old, outdated ideas from lawmakers who should know better but don’t.
“We were talking to Sen. (Chuck) Grassley, who’s the Republican from Iowa,” Trojan recalled. “They weren’t very receptive, but one of his ag guys was, ‘Everyone’s telling me you can make all this money. Can you do it on an industrial scale?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. We’re doing it.’”
The ignorance isn’t limited to the plant. It extends to the business base that supports hemp farming. Trojan found a particularly striking and costly example in Iowa.
“John Deere makes a combine that Europeans use to harvest their hemp, Canadians use to harvest their hemp,” Trojan said. “That combine is made in Waterloo, Iowa. It’s made in Sen. Grassley’s district, and they had no idea.”
Everyone could be making money if the old guard would open its eyes and start cooperating, he said. Even stalwart icons of American manufacturing are suffering because of the negative perception of cannabis held by many of those born before the 1960s.
“John Deere is making (the hemp combine) and shipping it out of the country. We could just take it down the road and it could harvest hemp if they could just pull their stuff together,” Trojan said.