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Tennessee Hemp Initiative Receives A $5 Million Grant From The USDA

To reinvigorate the state’s hemp production, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded funds to a new group led by TN State University.


According to numerous outlets, The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities has awarded a Tennessee hemp initiative with a nearly $5 million grant. The group is led by Tennessee State University and includes the University of Tennessee, the Hemp Alliance of Tennessee (HAT) and the TN Department of Agriculture.


The funds will help increase markets for American hemp producers who generate climate-smart commodities and provide meaningful benefits to small and underserved producers.


The initiative is one of 71 proposals chosen as part of Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities’ second funding pool totaling $325 million. Additionally, it is one of only five hemp-related projects selected to receive funding.


According to the USDA, this second round of funding will center on innovative projects that recruit small and underserved producers. Furthermore, there will be a substantial emphasis on investing in measuring, monitoring, reporting, and validating the tangible benefits of climate-smart practices within minority-serving institutions.


In a statement following the awarding of the grant, Frederick Cawthon, President of HAT, said, “Tennessee can become the leading producer of hemp in the Southeast United States. We are committed to growing this industry responsibly, and we encourage all industries to examine how they can utilize this climate-smart and regenerative raw material.”


"Tennessee can become the leading producer of hemp in the Southeast United States. We are committed to growing this industry responsibly, and we encourage all industries to examine how they can utilize this climate-smart and regenerative raw material.”

- Frederick Cawthon, President of Hemp Alliance of Tennessee


The project is entitled “Climate-Smart Fiber Hemp: A Versatile Thread Connecting the Nation’s Underserved Farmers, Climate Change Mitigation and Novel Market Opportunities.” The researchers want Tennessee to be at the forefront of expanding industrial hemp’s influence as a climate-smart commodity. Another aim of the initiative is to evaluate industrial hemp’s greenhouse gas benefits.


However, the main thrust of the work is to help small, medium, and underserved farmers who are struggling across the state of Tennessee. Since 2020 hemp production in Tennessee is down an alarming 50%. Small to medium-sized farms are at risk across the country, and the situation is particularly dire in the “Volunteer State.” The group plans to orchestrate special efforts to identify and recruit underserved producers (e.g., minorities, women, and veterans) along with farmers from the state’s nine most economically vulnerable counties to either begin cultivating hemp or expand their existing production.


Agriculture is a critically important industry in Tennessee. Many researchers and leaders within the state see this initiative as a vital step in helping maintain the stability and growth of farming within the state. Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M., shared, “(The) TDA is pleased to collaborate with TSU, UT, and HAT on initiatives that keep agriculture the number one industry in Tennessee. We join them in efforts that aid in discovering new uses of industrial hemp and boost farming opportunities in rural areas. Tennessee is eager to increase support of new and existing hemp producers through this USDA grant award.”


"(The) TDA is pleased to collaborate with TSU, UT, and HAT on initiatives that keep agriculture the number one industry in Tennessee. We join them in efforts that aid in discovering new uses of industrial hemp and boost farming opportunities in rural areas. Tennessee is eager to increase support of new and existing hemp producers through this USDA grant award.”

- TN Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M.


Since the enactment of the Farm Bill of 2018, which legalized the production of hemp and the manufacture of hemp-related products, the industry has presented a potentially significant new crop for farmers across the country to look to for financial growth and diversification. With efforts like the Tennessee initiative leading the way in helping to expand the reach and benefits of hemp and its climate-friendly product offerings, the future of the still-young and largely unknown crop seems a lot brighter as the new year begins.


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