With passage of the Farm Bill last year, the landscape has changed dramatically for the hemp industry. After decades of prohibition, hemp cultivation is once again legal in the U.S., and states are looking to the crop to help boost their local economies. One such state is Wyoming, whose governor recently signed into law a bill allowing the production of hemp and hemp-derived products.
Though not necessarily considered an agricultural powerhouse, Wyoming is uniquely positioned to become a leading hemp-producing state over the next several years.
One reason for Wyoming’s potential is its geographical location: Wyoming sits between Colorado and Montana, two of the largest U.S. hemp producers in 2018. Nestled between those, Wyoming farmers stand to benefit from the experience of their neighbors.
There is also a strong economic incentive for Wyoming to pursue hemp.
Two of the most popular crops grown in the Equality State are chickpeas and hay alfalfa. Depending on irrigation methods, chickpea farmers can expect to profit anywhere between $69-$121 per acre. Alfalfa farmers make considerably more, generating roughly $372 per acre in profit. In terms of profitability, however, either pales in comparison to hemp.
When cultivating for grain/seed, hemp farmers make nearly as much as alfalfa farmers, earning roughly $250-$300 per acre in profit. Hemp fiber is much more profitable, averaging $480 per acre. The downside to hemp fiber is that it depends mainly on industrial processing, and as of now the U.S. does not have sufficient infrastructure to meet the demand.
The highest profit potential for Wyoming farmers lies in cultivating hemp for CBD extraction: Though the start-up costs are higher, those cultivators can make about $2,500 per acre or more in profit.
While applications for licensing have not yet opened, state officials have already been inundated with inquiries, according to Wyoming Department of Agriculture representative Scott McDonald.
“We’ve had a lot of calls from a lot of different organizations, including a few looking to set up processing, others looking to do consulting and education, small family farms looking at hemp as rotation crop, and investors looking into leasing land”,” McDonald said “We think there’s a lot of opportunity.”
Despite such significant economic opportunities, it may take more time for Wyoming farmers start growing hemp: Under the Farm Bill, states looking to cultivate industrial hemp must submit a regulatory plan with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the department has 60 days to approve the plan.
While state officials are working towards submitting their regulatory plan to the USDA, they doubt that it will be approved. The USDA’s rejection has less to do with the plan per se, and more to do with the USDA itself.
According to McDonald, the USDA has told Wyoming agriculture officials that it has no intention on approving the state’s plan until the federal agency has its own hemp regulations in place. Regardless of how quickly the USDA might establish its own rules, the end result will be that farmers will not have enough time to obtain their licenses and still start planting for the 2019 season.
Nevertheless, once Wyoming’s hemp industry is up and running, farmers will most likely move away from chickpeas and alfalfa in favor of hemp. The Hemp Business Journal estimates that in 2020 Wyoming will cultivate and harvest approximately 250 acres of hemp, but by 2022 expand that to roughly 3,300 acres.