The state of NYS hemp from a grower’s perspective

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 1/29/20

LONG EDDY, NY — Since the 2018 Farm Bill removed cannabis from the list of Schedule 1 drugs, hemp has become the fastest growing crop in the country. The explosion in popularity has some …

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The state of NYS hemp from a grower’s perspective

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LONG EDDY, NY — Since the 2018 Farm Bill removed cannabis from the list of Schedule 1 drugs, hemp has become the fastest growing crop in the country. The explosion in popularity has some regional farmers wondering if they should get in on the trend. Andrew Rosner of HR Botanicals in Long Eddy, NY has been at the movement’s forefront, growing hemp himself and having a hand in shaping the policy around the crop.

Prior to the passage of the Farm Bill, Rosner and his partner Kristen Hallet began their research into growing methodologies as part of the application process to join the New York State Industrial Research Hemp Pilot Program. With a background in law and public health, Rosner has also been a part of the legislative conversation in Albany as vice president of the NYS Cannabis Growers and Processors Association. Rosner spoke to The River Reporter about what he’s learned as a grower, what legislation he’s advocated for and what he sees for the future of cannabis in New York State.

Growing practices and market

As a farmer, Rosner and Hallet are committed to growing hemp as organically as possible. Growing organic should not only be important to the farmers themselves, he said, but should define the industry as a whole.

The hemp plant is a bioaccumulator, meaning that if there are pesticides or other chemicals in the soil it’s being grown in, they will likely be absorbed into the plant.

“Growing organically means—to us—growing a plant that is the highest quality that consumers could possibly get, without the risk of the plant accumulating things that consumers would not want in their bodies,” he said.

Organic growing is one part of their broader approach to growing, which Rosner defines as “botanical.” As opposed to an “agricultural” approach, which involves growing mass quantities of the plant over hundreds of acres, Rosner describes their botanical style as more “artisanal,” growing smaller amounts and hand cultivating each plant instead of machine harvesting. This level of care for each plant is “incredibly labor intensive” and not a business model that Rosner recommends for all farmers.

But each farmer should think about which approach they are going to want to employ before investing in the crop, he said.

Rosner also advised farmers to think about what market they hope to get into. Hemp can be produced for a range of uses: oils, fabrics, building materials and grains, to name a few. Conventional wisdom recently has been that the cannabidiol (CBD) oil market is the most lucrative for farmers in this area. Rosner doesn’t discount this, but does add a qualifier.

“I would say that [success with CBD] is definitely what people have experienced,” he said. “But I think that there’s also been a lot of challenges with growing hemp for CBD, one of which is that a lot of farmers grew a lot of acreage this year, and some have had difficulties selling their crop.”

While CBD is more profitable than fiber or building materials at the moment, Rosner said growers should keep in mind that those other markets are still immature.

“CBD is something that quickly sprang onto the market because of the opportunity that was there, and consumers were very excited about using that product… whereas in other areas it’s a much slower process to market and broad acceptance,” he said.

Crafting legislation

As is often the case with new, rapid-growth industries, there’s been some “growing pains” on the end of politicians trying to craft legislation as quickly as hemp products have been hitting the shelves. The 2018 Farm Bill lays out some general regulatory pillars that each state must abide by, but from there it is largely up to the state to legislate its farmers. This has led to “something of a patchwork of regulations” across the country. In NYS, the explosion of CBD popularity caused some issues for legislators.

“One of the things that we were seeing was a lot of untested products from out of state from unknown sources coming into New York State,” Rosner said. “There were a whole host of potential contaminants that consumers were being exposed to.”

In December of last year, Gov. Cuomo signed the Farm Extract Bill, which had been sponsored by Sen. Jen Metzger and Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo. The bill created a “regulatory framework” for the production, extraction, manufacturing and sale of hemp in New York. Rosner, who met with Metzger and Lupardo as the bill was getting drafted, is happy with what the bill accomplished.

“[Legislators] were all looking out for not just the industry but consumer interests as well,” he said. “If consumers feel confident and are satisfied with the products they are getting, that’s a win-win-win,” a win for the hemp growers, for the industry as a whole and for the state government.

Looking to the future

With Cuomo pushing to legalize marijuana in NYS, Rosner has been paying close attention and considering what legalization could mean for farmers, and for the state’s economy at large.

“This is something we see as a very good economic stimulus for the communities that we’re all a part of,” he said. “We have a lot of companies in NYS that would like to participate in this industry.”

Should legalization of growing cannabis for recreational use—or “adult use,” as those in the industry call it—move forward, Rosner hopes the state would look to hemp growers like him to forge a sustainable and healthy process for cannabis production. “One of the things that we do well is grow the cannabis plant,” he said, noting that whether it’s for hemp or recreational use, the plant itself is much the same.

“That’s something that benefits the state, because we’re all small business owners,” he said. “We’re not multi-state operators that have planted a flag in New York because it happens to be a very large market.

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