In addition to producing cannabinoids and fibers, hemp is an oilseed crop, like flax, canola, or sunflower. Hemp seeds – or grain – are edible, highly nutritious, and contain omega-3 fatty acids, in addition to being high in protein.
Hemp grain can be pressed for edible oil; this oil is also employed in body care products such as soap. After being pressed for oil, the remaining material is referred to as hemp meal or cake. Hemp meal is high in protein and can be processed into flours and protein powders.
Inside the shells of hemp grain are hemp hearts, which are edible as-is, similar to the inside of sunflower seeds. Hemp hearts are also currently incorporated into food products such as granola and cereals.
Hemp grain and resulting products made from it have been given GRAS – Generally Recognized as Safe – status by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Chad Rosen of Victory Hemp Foods told Hemp Benchmarks that the FDA accepting the petition to designate hemp grain as GRAS was perhaps the biggest development to emerge out of the 2018 Farm Bill’s broader legalization of hemp for this sector of the industry. By contrast, FDA has not recognized CBD as GRAS and has stated that hemp-derived CBD cannot be added to foods, foreclosing potential markets for cannabinoid hemp.
There is also interest in using hemp grain as animal feed, but the FDA has not yet approved any products for such purposes.
U.S. Grain Hemp Market
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not yet have reliable data on acreage devoted to grain hemp production. Some state agriculture departments compile hemp acreage by end use, providing a partial picture of the scope of the market. However, a number of state agriculture departments lump grain hemp production in with hemp grown for seeds to be used for planting, further complicating the data.
As of October, state agriculture departments shows that there are about 13,500 acres licensed in the U.S. for production of hemp grain (or seed for planting) this year. About 10,000 of those acres were reported by the Montana Department of Agriculture alone. States where grain hemp is known to be grown – including North Dakota, Colorado, Kentucky, and Washington State – have not provided acreage figures, indicating that the total is likely a good bit higher.
the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), that figure is less than half the 77,800 acres that were planted in 2018 by farmers in our neighbor to the north, where grain hemp is grown primarily in the Prairie Provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.
The FAS report on Canadian hemp states that yields can vary from about 1,000 pounds of grain per acre on dryland (22 bushels per acre on a 44-pound bushel) and up to 3,000 pounds per acre on irrigated fields. In Parr’s experience, yields in the U.S. are lower – for reasons that we detail below – with experienced farmers typically seeing about 1,000 to 1,200 pounds per acre, but sometimes as much as 2,000 pounds of hemp grain per acre. For those growing grain hemp for the first time, yields of 600 to 800 pounds per acre are typical.
In regard to revenue, a September report from Agri-Pulse quoted Roger Gussiaas, president of Healthy Oilseeds – a grain hemp processor in North Dakota – and Eric Steenstra, president of the advocacy organization Vote Hemp, as estimating the farm gate value for U.S. grain hemp production at between $14 and $15 million. Assuming a price of $0.50 per pound of seed, this would translate to 28 to 30 million pounds of hemp grain produced annually in the U.S. (We discuss reported prices for hemp grain in more detail below.) If average yields are around 1,000 pounds per acre, then the revenue estimates from Gussiaas and Steenstra indicate between 28,000 to 30,000 acres farmed for hemp grain in the U.S.
By comparison, the FAS report cited above states that Canada exported nearly 5,400 metric tons (about 11.9 million pounds) of hemp seed valued at almost $50 million, with over 70% of the country’s export volume going to the U.S. The export data does not capture processed hemp products (hemp hearts, hemp seed oil, hemp meal, etc.). Canada imported 726 metric tons (roughly 1.6 million pounds) of hemp seed in 2017, “mostly from the U.S.,” according to the FAS report, valued at $1 million. Of course, import and export figures do not capture the volume and value of the hemp grain that was produced, processed, and sold within Canada.