2020 was a scary year for the hemp industry. With an influx of biomass on the market and changing hemp laws, farmers are looking for alternative uses for their crop other than extraction. As a result, some interesting and economically changing niches have appeared in the market. Sustainable construction, nutritious protein/fiber alternatives, and a biodegradable replacement for plastic are just a few of the more well-known niches within the hemp market. However, farmers can look closer to home for another option.
We had just moved to a farm in Colorado in April 2018 when a fire desecrated the farmland south of Colorado Springs (off of mile marker 117). Before this had happened we were having family discussions on buying a bucket calf to raise for meat. I left work that day and drove home through an evacuation zone (I had been told by a sheriff's deputy the road was clear and okay to drive) to get back to the farm. My family who worked on the farm had ignored the evacuation order, instead choosing to fight the fire themselves and ultimately save the farm. For weeks, everything smelled like smoke. But we were the lucky ones.
Neighbors who had evacuated lost their homes, livestock, and the land. When the smoke cleared, nothing was left but black earth and a few metal tee posts. We knew what was coming. Without land to graze on, farmers would have to turn to hay and other alternatives to feed their livestock. Prices went up and we decided against getting a calf.
Why tell this story? It explains how a disaster can cause a chain reaction within the farming industry. However, there may be a potential feed alternative for the industry in the form of livestock feed derived from hemp.
According to Hemp Grower, "The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, for example, conducted a study in 2010 on how adding hempseed cake into dairy cows’ diets would affect the milk production and composition. Researchers gave 40 Swedish Red dairy cows varied amounts of hempseed cake over a five-month study; in the end, the milk showed positive results for increased nutritional value."
This is just one of the multiple studies conducted to determine the possibility of using hemp as a feeding alternative for livestock. Other studies have included sheep and chickens as well. While research is looking positive for hemp feed, there is still another hurdle we have to clear.
Phys.org released an article in September 2020 covering a research project conducted by Kansas State University (Go Wildcats!). Their goal is to analyze the safety of using hemp as cattle feed. As most of us who took a biology class in high school know, nutrients get passed along in the food chain. The main worry is that THC (the primary psychoactive cannabinoid in hemp and marijuana) could show in products derived from the animal that consumes the grain. Research is still ongoing, with follow up studies still being conducted at the time of this writing.
The past several years have seen wildfires, floods, and other disasters that have impacted the farming industry. When grazing lands are removed, the demand for hay and other feeding options goes up (and along with that, the price). Hemp feed can offer another viable alternative to farmers in need. Research is moving towards a positive reception of this idea, giving this specific niche of the hemp industry a brighter spotlight.