Economic Tidbits

Is Industrial Hemp in Nebraska’s Future?

Years ago, a young agricultural lobbyist with the last name of Rempe testified in support of legislation legalizing the production of industrial hemp in Nebraska. His efforts earned him the nickname of “Hempe Rempe.” Hempe Rempe was unsuccessful then, but now, nearly 20 years later, his dreams may come to fruition as the production of industrial hemp is again a topic at the Nebraska Legislature. The Nebraska legislation follows the passage of the federal farm bill which included language removing federal restrictions on hemp production, allowing hemp producers to participate in crop insurance, and allowing states to decide whether to allow hemp production within their borders. Two bills have been introduced in the Nebraska Legislature—one to decriminalize hemp production and one to set up a regulatory scheme overseen by the Nebraska Dept. of Agriculture to oversee hemp production in the state.

The production and use of hemp are centuries old. In fact, the Declaration of Independence was written on paper made from hemp. Hemp was widely grown in Nebraska during World War II to produce rope. Vote Hemp, a hemp advocacy group, said there were 23,343 acres of hemp in 2017. Colorado and Kentucky led the nation in acres, but North Dakota and Minnesota also had sizable hemp footprints. Nebraska was reported to have one acre. Processing facilities are in Colorado, North Dakota and Minnesota. Nebraska was reported to have at least one processor. The Congressional Research Office (CRS) last year reported the total U.S. retail sales of hemp products was nearly $700 million in 2016 which includes food and body products, dietary supplements, clothing, auto parts, building materials, and other consumer products. The CRS also reported hemp imports into the U.S. equaled $67.3 million in 2017, an increase over the $5.7 million imported in 2005, with most of the imports coming from Canada. Two-thirds of the value of hemp imports were of seeds, hemp oil, seedcake, and solids accounted for the remaining value.

Time will tell whether Hempe Rempe sees industrial hemp production in Nebraska. If so, it seems the market infrastructure already exists in several other states. Nebraska producers may be able to tap into this infrastructure.

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