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Unlocking the Potential of Industrial Hemp

The grand opening of South Dakota's first industrial hemp processing center highlights the potential of hemp in various industries.

The grand opening of South Dakota’s first industrial hemp processing center near Madison, SD, marked a significant milestone for the industrial hemp industry in the state and the United States. Industrial hemp experts, farmers, and visitors from across the United States gathered at the event to discuss the numerous opportunities this versatile plant offers in various sectors, including food, feed, farming, automotive, and building materials.

The journey leading up to this momentous occasion wasn’t without its challenges. After five years of planning and collaboration with South Dakota lawmakers on industrial hemp policy, Complete Hemp Processing finally opened its doors. The processing center aims to be a collaborative hub, working with local farmers to grow industrial hemp and providing them a place to process their harvest.

One of the main attractions during the grand opening was the demonstration of hempcrete building by Ray Kaderli, the President of the U.S. Hemp Building Association. Hemp-lime building materials, such as hempcrete, offer sustainable alternatives to traditional construction materials, helping mitigate the construction industry’s significant carbon footprint and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The industrial hemp industry faced hurdles in the past due to the CBD market boom and bust in 2019-2020, which led to a lack of genetics and alienated some US farmers. However, with the re-legalization of industrial hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill and the expectation of further supportive regulations in the upcoming 2023-24 Farm Bill, the industry is gaining momentum again.

The industrial hemp plant, a non-intoxicating version of cannabis sativa, has been used by humans for thousands of years. It produces some of the world’s strongest natural fibers and highly nutritious grain, known as “hemp hearts.” The resurgence of industrial hemp in US agriculture has immense potential, offering farmers new income streams and contributing to sustainable farming practices.

Among the opportunities discussed during the grand opening, the potential for hemp in the building materials industry garnered considerable attention. Hemp-lime composites, like hempcrete, present an eco-friendly solution for construction, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and utilizing a renewable resource. The application of hemp in building materials is gaining traction, and examples like the Project PA Home, insulated with spray-applied hempcrete in Pennsylvania, demonstrate the viability of this innovative approach.

The decorticator facility showcased at the grand opening was another highlight. The Fiber Track 660 decorticator separates hemp stalks into the long fiber bark (bast) and the inner woody core (hurd). These outputs find various applications, including textiles, nonwoven materials, building materials, animal bedding, mulch, and even micronized dust used in plastics.

Despite the progress made, challenges remain in scaling the industrial hemp industry. For instance, achieving commodity prices to compete with other agricultural products requires a significant increase in volume. This has been partially hindered by the slow approval process for using hemp seed as animal feed. Animal feed approval by the FDA could unlock new market opportunities and drive down hemp prices, making it more attractive for farmers.

In addition to the farming and construction sectors, the automotive industry also stands to benefit from the use of hemp fiber. Hemp fiber has been utilized in car parts by the European automotive industry for decades, and there is potential for significant demand in the United States. By tapping into such industries, the industrial hemp market can experience substantial growth and expansion.

The grand opening of South Dakota’s first industrial hemp processing center showcased the immense potential of this versatile plant. From providing sustainable building materials to offering nutritious food and feed options and opening new avenues for farmers, industrial hemp can drive positive change in various industries. Collaborative efforts between processors, farmers, lawmakers, and industry associations will play a crucial role in unlocking the full potential of industrial hemp and establishing it as a standard rotational crop in the United States. As the industrial hemp industry continues to grow and evolve, it has the power to revolutionize agriculture, foster sustainable practices, and contribute to a more sustainable and prosperous future.

Image provided by U.S. Hemp Building Association

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