top of page

USDA’s ‘Climate-Smart’ Program Barely Includes Hemp

The ambitious initiative promoting environmentally-friendly farming in the U.S. has granted only 1% of its budget to hemp-based projects.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities" program is a $3.1 billion effort designed to encourage the cultivation of crops that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon. A total of 141 projects are to be funded by the initiative, with all requiring meaningful involvement by smaller at-risk farmers.


USDA states, "This effort will expand markets for America's climate-smart commodities, leverage the greenhouse gas benefits of climate-smart commodity production, and provide direct, meaningful benefits to production agriculture, including for small and underserved producers."


"This effort will expand markets for America's climate-smart commodities, leverage the greenhouse gas benefits of climate-smart commodity production, and provide direct, meaningful benefits to production agriculture, including for small and underserved producers."

- USDA statement on "Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities"


The overall goal is to create methods for quantifying, monitoring, reporting and verifying greenhouse gas benefits through innovative farming. The agency anticipates the sequestration of over 60 million metric tons of carbon dioxide due to the Climate-Smart project. It also expects a substantial increase in revenue streams for farmers and ranchers in the targeted economically disadvantaged areas.


However, as first reported by hemptoday.net, only $35 million, or a little over 1% of the total program budget, will be earmarked for hemp-based projects. Despite the numerous scientific studies demonstrating that hemp is one of the most effective crops for reducing the harmful effects of carbon, the USDA has only seen fit to fund a handful of hemp projects under this new program.


Researchers at Cambridge University have concluded that hemp captures atmospheric carbon twice as effectively as forests. As Cambridge University's Senior Researcher at the Centre for Natural Material Innovation, Darshil Shah, explains, "Numerous studies estimate that hemp is one of the best CO2-to-biomass converters. It's even more effective than trees."


"Numerous studies estimate that hemp is one of the best CO2-to-biomass converters. It's even more effective than trees."

- Darshil Shah, Senior Researcher, Cambridge University


Likewise, the versatile and durable plant provides carbon-negative biomaterials for architects and designers. Hemp-based construction materials such as hempcrete and hemp bioplastics can replace less eco-friendly items like fiberglass, aluminum, and conventional petroleum-based plastics.


European countries such as Sweden and war-torn Ukraine have begun investing considerable monetary and human resources into hemp-based materials to construct new and better communities with an eye toward more environmentally safe buildings and sustainable infrastructures.


Of the few applicants that did receive funding for hemp-centric projects, their areas of focus included hemp for grain (food), animal feed, hemp hurd and technical fibers, hemp for fuel, nutrient management and hemp as a cover crop. Grant recipients must also match, on average, 50% of the USDA's investment with non-federal funds. While the mere inclusion of hemp-related projects is an encouraging sign for industry advocates, farmers and stakeholders, the tiny amount of funds allotted has discouraged many.


When hemp was made legal again by Congress via the Farm Bill of 2018, one of the exciting components of that landmark legislation was the possibilities hemp cultivation could provide in environmental protection, farming, construction and the myriad of hemp-based manufacturing products, like CBD.


Overall, the market has grown remarkably fast in less than five years. However, with the uncertainty surrounding the efficacy of CBD as an approved diet and food supplement and the need for full-scale support and funding for hemp as a viable and profitable crop for farmers, the industry remains very much at a tenuous crossroads.


The results of the USDA project should demonstrate just how powerful and necessary hemp can be for the American agricultural market. And that proving ground could provide a positive and significant leap in transporting this extraordinary plant from novelty to absolute necessity.


13 views0 comments
bottom of page