Hemp Industry Leaders Gather to Discuss Future of Vibrant New Industry

Wrapup Summary

Over forty hemp industry leaders met in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, June 24-25, 2021, for the first Hemp Leaders Summit to chart the path forward for the growing U.S. hemp industry. The event, hosted by the Hemp Leaders Coalition, consisted of representatives including hemp farmers, manufacturers and researchers with the goal of setting the direction for a vibrant and sustainable U.S. hemp industry.

Leaders discussed the forward thinking and problem solving that will be required in order to grow a successful and sustainable industry. To accomplish and help guide next steps, the group listened to valuable insight offered by important leaders, decision-makers and stakeholders with experience in areas critical to hemp production.

Key takeaways from the session included:

International Markets: Gregg Doud, former Chief Agricultural Negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and Ted McKinney, former Under Secretary of Trade at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, spoke in depth about global market opportunities for U.S. hemp and why the industry is uniquely poised to work closely with lawmakers and agency regulators to gain critical access to those markets.

Regulatory Challenges and Opportunities: Key players at USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and the Drug Enforcement Administration, along with leaders from states with robust hemp programs, spoke directly about government policies and regulations that continue to evolve and affect the hemp industry across all channels. Because ensuring consumer safety and confidence is a top priority for hemp industry leaders, participants held in-depth discussions on the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission’s regulatory framework, noting the importance of bringing solutions to policy makers.

Consumer Health Data: An important contribution to gathering safety data requested by FDA which was highlighted was the work of Validcare as CEO Patrick McCarthy discussed their work to gather real world data and blood work from healthy adult consumers currently using oral CBD products. The submission of that data to FDA is intended to be an important step to moving the regulatory process forward. 

Protecting Hemp from Pests: Jerry Baron, with IR-4 Project, updated leaders about pesticides and biopesticides for specialty crops including hemp. As hemp farmers know, specialty crops are often left with fewer tools to effectively and safely manage pests. The IR-4 Project was established by USDA to mitigate this problem, ensuring specialty crops have legal access to safe and effective crop protection products. The group works directly with farmers, registrants of crop protection products and other members of the specialty crop community to develop data required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the registration of pest management tools for specialty crops.

Textile Integration and Reliable Supply Chains: Integrating U.S. hemp into the textile industry provides another domestic and international market opportunity for U.S. hemp. This is the message Ed Jernigan, CEO of Jernigan Global, brought to the group as he discussed the potential of integrating hemp fiber into the textile supply chain. Jernigan has worked closely with manufacturers, brands and retailers. He has significant experience expanding demand for premium U.S. upland cotton fibers and noted the U.S. hemp industry’s unique opportunity to take advantage of the growing demand for natural fibers. Patrick Flaherty, a mechanical engineer with years of experience working with biobased materials, also discussed the practical steps the industry must take to build reliable, long-term supply chain relationships.

Establishing Promotion and Research Opportunities: Although in its infancy, U.S. hemp has the potential to become a major commodity. Most major commodities have an established checkoff—a program that collectively funds promotion and research for U.S. commodity products, ultimately increasing profitability and market opportunities for domestic farmers. Richard Fordyce and Michael Whitmer, OBP agency, have extensive experience elevating ag associations in name recognition and through checkoff establishment. They discussed producer-funded checkoff organizations and the critical need for focused messaging and education from the hemp industry to stakeholders.

Venture Capital and Funding: David Wilkinson, founder and president of the Investment Training Institute and co-founder and competitive strategist of Hemp Business Advisors, told leaders there is significant venture capital available for hemp production, but it takes serious entrepreneurs to get it. Wilkinson gave a robust status update of investment activity in the industry and the steps new companies can take to get funded. He also highlighted the simple mistakes that result in no funding.

Online Retail: Jeff Greene, CEO of Greene’s Reserve and co-founder of the Florida Hemp Council, gave the group unique insights about selling online and what it takes to get your items listed on major online retailers like Amazon. Greene just recently completed an Amazon listing for hemp snuff. He provided tips and insights on navigating online sales based on his successful firsthand experience.

While the hemp industry is relatively new in the United States, the potential for growth in existing and undiscovered markets is significant. Leaders from the summit committed to ongoing communication and discussion that will help grow the impact and marketability of the industry.