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Oklahoma Lawmakers Look to Expand the State’s Hemp Production

With cultivation and processing of the plant at an all-time low, leaders in the Sooner State are searching for ways to expand production.

Legislators in Oklahoma want to spur rural development in their state, and many believe hemp could be a vital piece to that economic and agricultural expansion. Following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which made it legal to cultivate, process and sell hemp and its myriad of byproducts, there was a tremendous amount of initial interest on the part of farmers and would-be hemp entrepreneurs.


However, since then, Oklahoma has seen a sharp decrease in hemp production and processing, according to Kenny Naylor, the Director of Consumer Affairs for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture. Naylor recently testified before the State Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, telling lawmakers, “Unfortunately, our numbers have gone way down. In 2018, everybody wanted to grow hemp.”


"Unfortunately, our numbers have gone way down. In 2018, everybody wanted to grow hemp.”

- Kenny Naylor, Dir. of Consumer Affairs for the Oklahoma Dept. of Agriculture


This year, Oklahoma is down to 21 licensed hemp growers and only 22 licensed processors. Several local and national media outlets are now reporting that state leaders have requested a study on how expanding industrial hemp production could benefit rural development in the state.


Several factors have contributed to the production falloff, including a severely saturated CBD market and limited processing capacity. However, much of the reduction in cultivation is due primarily to bad luck and timing.


“I think COVID-19 hit right at the wrong time and shut everything down, and that definitely caused problems. And then for Oklahoma specifically, people switched to marijuana,” Naylor said.


"I think COVID-19 hit right at the wrong time and shut everything down, and that definitely caused problems. And then for Oklahoma specifically, people switched to marijuana.”

- Kenny Naylor, Dir. of Consumer Affairs for the Oklahoma Dept. of Agriculture


Early on, it was less expensive to attain a license to grow medical cannabis in the state than to acquire one for cultivating hemp. If a farmer wants to get into the hemp business in Oklahoma, they have to pay a $500 application fee as well as $5 an acre for outside growth and 33 cents a square foot for indoor growth. Applicants must then pay a license processing fee ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. That amount varies based on the grower’s estimated annual sales revenue.


However, as the cost of getting into the medical marijuana industry has steadily risen in the past few years, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture predicts a substantial pendulum swing back in favor of hemp.


“We anticipate or at least are beginning to see some things that may look like a switch from medical marijuana back to hemp growing, one of those being cost,” said Naylor.


One of the lawmakers who requested the study, Sen. Roland Pederson, R-Oklahoma City, said during the hearing that hemp seemed like an excellent alternative crop that could be grown efficiently in Oklahoma’s ideal climate.


Pederson said, “At one time in Oklahoma, there was a lot of hemp produced. Even across the nation, there was a lot of hemp produced. And somehow with its conflicting characteristics with marijuana, it was outlawed, and it was done away with until the Farm Bill of 2018 came about, and that allowed the growth again of hemp. I think it’s got a great future.”


"At one time in Oklahoma, there was a lot of hemp produced. Even across the nation, there was a lot of hemp produced. And somehow with its conflicting characteristics with marijuana, it was outlawed, and it was done away with until the Farm Bill of 2018 came about, and that allowed the growth again of hemp. I think it’s got a great future.”

- State Sen. Roland Pederson, R-Oklahoma City


However, not everyone is convinced of the potential power of hemp. During Naylor’s testimony, Sen. Jerry Alvord (R-Oklahoma City) asked where the demand for more hemp would come. He remarked, “I’m struggling to understand what void hemp is filling in today’s, especially agricultural products. What are we missing that hemp is going to replace?”


Naylor pointed out that along with providing feed for livestock, food for humans, and a vast array of health and wellness applications, including CBD, hemp can be used to create biodegradable plastics, eco-friendly construction materials, and other practical products and uses.


“It’s very durable fiber as well. That’s one of the reasons why I think they liked using it during World War II,” Naylor said.


As lawmakers, farmers, and agricultural experts work to figure out a plan for implementing a new approach to hemp production in the state, they may want to keep an eye on Capitol Hill, where Congressional leaders continue to debate the details and updated provisions to the 2023 Farm Bill. Industry activists and stakeholders hope lessons learned from the 2018 iteration could help them craft a bill to support and strengthen the still young and burgeoning market.


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