The hemp market has been a whirlwind for all involved in the industry. With the passing of the U.S. Farm Bill in 2018, which finally decriminalized the hemp plant, the market has seen an absolute explosion, with farmers, manufacturers and other industry members rushing to get in on the sudden increase in demand for hemp-derived products like cannabidiol (CBD).
This has been a blessing in many ways, of course. Companies/manufacturers have largely been able to handle the demands of consumers with adequate supply, which all begins with the cultivation of industrial hemp across America’s farmland. But, that doesn’t mean that the hemp farming industry isn’t seeing some challenges. Mainly, there are two issues that can become much bigger problems if they aren’t addressed in the near future: one is the almost inevitable need for farmers to cut corners just to keep up with still-growing demand, and the other is larger-scale environmental issues that impact our ability to grow the highest-quality, cleanest hemp material possible.
The good news is that there may be a simple solution that addresses both issues at once, and that’s regenerative farming.
What is Regenerative Farming?
Regenerative farming is not new, nor does it only relate to the hemp industry. It’s a solution to growing levels of unsustainability and instability within our country’s agricultural industry. A number of issues have developed in the last few decades that threaten the future of our farmers, and in turn, our own.
Our soil quality has been degrading over the last several years, mainly due to climate-related issues that have thrown off our entire ecosystem. Increased levels of carbon dioxide emissions have thrown off the nutritional balance of our soil, causing nutritional deficiencies in our crops that can dramatically decrease agricultural yields on a massive scale. On top of that, our weather patterns have become more unstable in recent years, with issues like drought and flooding both contributing to poor agricultural outcomes.
Regenerative farming consists of a series of new standards that would make farming more sustainable in the long run. It looks to improve the process of photosynthesis by directly contributing to the quality of soil, and increasing biodiversity to facilitate a more holistic, symbiotic ecosystem in which our crops can thrive.
Some of the main principles of regenerative farming include:
Limiting Soil Erosion: Disturbing soil ultimately depletes it of carbon dioxide, which is essential to plants so that they may photosynthesize. Over-plowing and tilling also lead to soil compaction, which reduces the soil’s beneficial microbes that support plant growth by keeping the soil rich in nutrients. One of the goals with regenerative farming is to minimize soil erosion and disturbance as much as possible, so that soil can retain higher levels of nutrients and organic matter to support plant growth as much as possible, without the need to use chemicals to compensate.
Diversifying Crops: When a piece of farmland grows only one type of crop, the soil changes to accommodate that one crop. What this means is that the soil ends up with excessive amounts of some nutrients, while being extremely deficient in others. Crop diversification ensures that the soil always maintains a balance of nutrients as exposure to different crops keeps nutritional content diverse.
Reducing the Use of Synthetic Materials: Chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers all destroy soil’s microbial content over time. Without a diverse host of microbes in the soil, nutrient density will become depleted. The answer? More chemicals to make up the difference. This isn’t a sustainable practice in any way, and besides that, there remain a number of concerns about the quality of our crops that have been exposed to these chemicals over time.
Utilizing Livestock: Once upon a time, farmers understood the symbiotic nature between crops and livestock. Livestock feed off of the farmland, while they benefit the plants by naturally aerating the soil and fertilizing it at the same time. Integrating livestock back into the agricultural industry can solve a lot of problems without a high cost.
The Unsustainable Nature of Our Current Hemp Market
The ‘hemp boom’ we’re seeing has far exceeded our expectations. As a result of increasing demand, hemp farmers have been rushing to yield high amounts of plant material to feed America’s desire for hemp products. The extract-based products that dominate the market, like tinctures, gummies and vape oils, all require large amounts of raw plant material to achieve potent extract concentrations.
But, the problem is that farmers can only do so much to boost their annual yields. They’re largely working with nutrient-depleted soil due to the unsustainable farming practices that have become standard throughout the country. What makes things more challenging is that the hemp plant naturally has a high rate of absorption when it comes to surrounding materials in the soil. Chemically treated soils that are high in heavy metals and other toxins damage the quality of the resulting hemp yields, and even introduce these unwanted materials into our bodies.
How Will Regenerative Farming Directly Benefit the Hemp Industry?
Regenerative farming creates the ideal agricultural environment in which the hemp plant can thrive. And, the hemp industry may be one of the first industries to really integrate these practices on a large scale, because it could very well be the only way to maintain the ability to meet consumer demands. The result is more raw plant material every year, which doesn’t just improve the farming industry, but also reduces costs for consumers.
Besides these practices benefiting hemp farmers, there’s another aspect. Farmers who add industrial hemp as an additional crop on their farms can benefit as well. In addition to the benefit of increasing plant diversity, hemp is a natural deterrent to predators that kill pollinators, thus disrupting the ecosystem. Plus, hemp produces some of the highest-quality biomass, which is a nutrient-dense matter that makes its way back into the soil during a plant’s natural life cycle, which can improve the nutrient density of the land as a whole.
A Better Future for the Hemp Industry, and for Our Planet
Regenerative farming may be the inevitable next step of the hemp industry, and if hemp farmers take the lead, other industries could follow to usher us into an area of more responsible farming on a national, or even global scale. This would mean higher profits for farmers, healthier crops for us, and a more sustainable ecosystem for our future.