2020 Outlook: Licensed US hemp acreage falls 9% from 2019, but grower numbers increase 27%


U,S, June 19, 2020, (HEMPINDUSTRYDAILY) U.S. farmers are planting less hemp than they did last year due to regulatory uncertainty, a surplus of hemp flower and biomass held over from 2019 and continuously falling wholesale prices.

As of Thursday, licensed total hemp acreage to date has reached 465,787 acres for the 2020 production season, with 47 state departments of agriculture reporting numbers to Hemp Industry Daily.

The 2020 licensed acreage is a 9% decrease, compared to 511,442 total licensed acres of hemp across 34 states in 2019, which was more than quadruple the number of acres licensed from 2018, industry advocacy group Vote Hemp reported last fall.

Hemp production acreage in 2020 was projected by many industry insiders to decrease for the first time since 2014, when the 2014 Farm Bill established hemp pilot research programs nationwide.

Even with new hemp states coming online after passing hemp production legislation in 2019 and gaining USDA approval for their state plans, overall acreage numbers to date are down from last year.

Number breakdown

Some states don’t separate outdoor and indoor production but of the 27 that do, licensed indoor production accounts for 93,666,091 square feet or 2,150 acres.

Comparatively, the largest 100 greenhouse producers in the U.S. account for just under 220 million square feet of indoor production, according to an annual ranking from Greenhouse Grower, a news publication covering the sector.

States licensed a total of 21,496 growers, a 27% increase compared to the 16,877 farmers and researchers licensed in 34 states in 2019, according to Vote Hemp. The number of growers licensed for 2019 showed a 476% increase over 2018.

Seven states didn’t have acreage numbers ready yet and several said that their numbers are not final, as growers continue to apply for licenses.

One state, New Hampshire, has producers growing under U.S. Department of Agriculture jurisdiction. A spokesman for the agency told Hemp Industry Daily that the USDA has issued five licenses to producers in the state.

States that track and require processor licenses have granted 4,485 processor-handlers licenses. However, several states said they don’t require licenses for processors, so there is much greater processing capacity within the U.S. that is currently unaccounted for.

Top states

States that have led the nation in hemp production since 2014 have seen a marked decrease in licensed acreage. Of the top 10 hemp states by acreage licensed in 2018, only two – New York and North Carolina – have increased licensed acres and registered growers. Consider:

New hemp states ramping up

Notable licensing numbers for this year in new and relatively young hemp states indicate grower enthusiasm for the new crop including:

  • California – 32,504.9 acres; licensed 655 growers and breeders
  • Arizona – 34,000 acres; 1,520,000 indoor sq ft; 157 growers; 60 processors
  • Illinois – 26,264 acres; 770 growers; 317 processors
  • Michigan – 13,225 acres; 11 million indoor sq. ft.; 806 outdoor growers and 350 indoor growers; 447 processor-handlers
  • Florida – 16,000 acres; 386 growers; 9 processors
  • Kansas – 9,903.05 acres; 214 growers; 23 processors

2020 Predictions

Of course, licensed numbers don’t account for actual planted numbers.

The state of Missouri tracks this in its pre-season numbers. Although it licensed 21,000 acres, the state also asks for planned acreage and square footage, saying most growers license more land to grow on but don’t typically plant more than their reported planned acreage. And it’s a big difference – growers in Missouri said they plan to produce 3,892 total acres this season.

If more states provided this distinction, it would give the industry a more accurate picture of actual planted acres at the beginning of the season.

In 2019, Vote Hemp predicted that 230,000 of the 511,442 licensed acres would actually be planted.

“Licensing is a good indicator to show intent, but we know from previous years that significantly less hemp is planted than what is licensed due to a variety of factors, including access to seed and clones, a lack of financing as well as inexperience,” said Vote Hemp president Eric Steenstra.

The USDA’s Farm Service Agency reported in mid-summer 2019 that there were 146,780 acres planted in 2019.

But according to Colorado-based research firm The Jacobsen, that data was skewed because tens of thousands of acres went unreported in states like Oregon and Colorado, accounting for new farmers and cannabis growers, who didn’t have a relationship with the FSA.

In 2020, acreage reporting to the FSA is compulsory as part of the USDA’s interim final rule and the agency will also record intended use including fiber, grain, seed or cannabinoid production, said senior hemp analyst Chase Hubbard in The Jacobsen’s 2020 U.S. Hemp Crop Outlook released in May.

In the report, The Jacobsen projected planted hemp acreage for this year will be 157,082 acres.

Harvested numbers are a much different story, as the number of harvested acres in 2019 were likely half of what was planted, according to Vote Hemp.

The organization estimated 50%-60% of 2019 planted acres would be harvested due to crop failure, non-compliant crops and other factors, resulting in a 2019 total of 115,000-138,000 acres of harvested hemp.

Harvested hemp acreage numbers for 2019 appear still unreported by USDA-FSA.

Producing beyond cannabinoids

Based on The Jacobsen’s May 2020 production survey, the bulk of the 2020 crop, 79.4%, will be dedicated to cannabinoid production, with 14.5% focused on CBG-dominant genetics. The survey showed 2.5% of 2020 acreage would be planted for fiber varieties and 3.6% for grain.

According to Hemp Industry Daily’s 2019 Hemp & CBD Factbook, 94% of producers grew flower varieties for cannabinoid production last year, while 10% focused on seed and grain varieties and 11% grew for fiber and stalks.

Prior to COVID-19, Steenstra of Vote Hemp predicted during the Industrial Hemp Summit in February that more farmers will begin growing grain or dual use hemp crops.

A growing interest in fiber and grain varieties is showing, according to Andrew Bish, CEO of Hemp HarvestWorks, who said Tuesday that he has received more inquiries about harvesting equipment for grain and fiber hemp from producers this year, than in previous years.

However, no matter what growers decide to plant, planning is the key to success, said Mark Reinders, CEO of HempFlax and president of the European Industrial Hemp Association.

“Do not plant hemp if you do not have a harvesting plan and if you do not have a contract at a processing facility,” Reinders said.

“The total crop valuation only works if the whole infrastructure is in place. … Start with your market and then work backward to the crop, but please do not plant any seeds without any planning because you will lose money.”