DENVER, Sept. 5 (UPI) -- The number of agricultural acres licensed in 2019 to grow industrial hemp in the United States was four times greater than the year before, a new report said Thursday.
Thirteen new state agriculture hemp programs started in 2019, the report from hemp advocacy organization Vote Hemp said.
The number of acres of hemp licensed across 34 states totaled 511,442 in 2019, compared with 112,000 acres licensed in 2018, the Washington, D.C.-based organization said. About 16,900 farmers and researchers received licenses from state boards of agriculture last year, said Eric Steenstra, president of the group.
Of the acres licensed to grow hemp, the organization estimates about half, 230,000, were planted. Only 50 to 60 percent of that will be harvested because of "crop failure, non-compliant crops and other factors," Vote Hemp said.
But many farmers and tribes harvesting and planting hemp this year do not have buyers for their crops.
"It's not a commodity crop yet," Steenstra told UPI. "We're starting from scratch because we haven't grown hemp for decades, so the genetics were lost and we need to rebuild a demand for processing and infrastructure."
Hemp, a cannabis family cousin of THC-active marijuana, was delisted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency as a Schedule 1 substance in December 2018. Hemp is defined as cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC. Outside of a few pilot programs in some states, hemp was illegal to plant and harvest on a large scale from 1937 until the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.
The top three states for the number of hemp licenses issued were Colorado, Kentucky and Oregon, Steenstra said.
New hemp growing programs have started this year in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.
Most hemp in the United States is being cultivated for cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-psychoactive chemical compound that has become a consumer craze in cosmetics, food, pet products and personal care.
Other uses for hemp include hemp seed, a source of proteins and Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids. Hemp bast fiber has shown "promising potential to replace graphene in supercapacitor batteries," Vote Hemp said. Hemp fiber also can be used to create hard bioplastics "for use in everything from airplanes to car parts," the group said.