Arkansas Hemp Market In Decline

Photo Shutterstock

The market for industrial hemp has not grown as fast as the plants in Arkansas.

The climate may be great for the crop touted a few years ago as a money-maker and a new source for everything from clothes, textiles, building materials to fuel and food.

So what’s up with hemp? Not the price like gasoline, anyway.

There are only about 20 hemp farmers in Arkansas.

But one hemp farmer is doing well in Fort Smith. Danny Upchurch opened 33 CBD Supply at 2801 Old Greenwood in Fort Smith. Hemp farms are in Arkoma and Spiro where more than 100 acres are growing. CBD continues to be in demand and grow in popularity for a variety of health care uses.

Still, four years ago, excitement for the legalization of industrial hemp, the plant marijuana comes from, was high. There was talk that industrial hemp would not only produce money-making CBD oils but also provide material for a variety of products from textiles, a replacement for plastic and fibers. Fibers have been used in concrete and wood construction materials.

Although hemp plants with 0.3% THC, the chemical that produces the effects of marijuana, became legal on the federal level when the 2018 farm bill passed, the market has not been as exciting, said Jim Correll, a University of Arkansas professor of plant pathology who has been studying hemp in the state.

“There was a lot of excitement about the crop and how to make money. It has waned,” Correll said. And the number of growers has dropped in the past few years for the startup industry.

Correll is studying diseases and other conditions that impact the quality of hemp and the yield.

“The number of growers has dropped substantially,” Correll said.

Meanwhile, there are about 20 industrial hemp growers currently in Arkansas, said Bill Morgan, a hemp research farmer who farms west of Fayetteville.

There have been farmers whose hemp tested too high in THC and the crop had to be destroyed.

In the early 1900s hemp was everything, he said. The first colonists had hemp seeds and hemp was grown for textiles, clothing and other uses.

“Henry Ford built a car out of hemp and fueled the car by hemp,” Morgan said.

He said the “Reefer Madness” movie of the 1930s was bad for the image of hemp.

The hemp plant is good for soil and can renew soil.

Morgan’s Biogen company grows hemp for CBD oil. The fibers can be used from the tall, skinny plants. The hemp plants for CBD are shorter, he said. More information is on his website

He said he plans to continue working in the hemp industry field.

“I’m trying to figure things out,” Morgan said.

Morgan said he has been growing food crops for 50 years. He said he has developed ways to grow in Arkansas soil. The climate in Arkansas is good for hemp.

“The environment is good for hemp,” Morgan.

Paul Van Lare, 45, owner of GrowFresh Organics & More of Fort Smith said he tried to farm hemp when it became legal to do so in 2018,. But in fall 2021 he let his license lapse. There was not enough certainty in the market to put money and labor into. Labor, and the shortage of it, Van Lare said, is an issue for any farming work nationwide, he said. The yield was not looking like it would be worth the effort, he said.

Van Lare said hemp is crop, but no longer a controlled substance under federal law, progress for the industry.

“It is the oldest cultivated plant known to man,” Van Lare said.

“The reason it is so valuable is it is resilient, adaptive and changes rapidly to fit its environment,” Van Lare said. He said hemp does not need pesticide like other crops.

“Hemp is important to the world, it has been for 5,000 years,” Van Lare said.

The number of farmers who were approved by the Arkansas State Department of Agriculture for a hemp license has dropped.

There were just 49 licensed hemp growers in Arkansas in 2021, and that 78 fewer than when the program opened in 2019. The total number this year is expected to drop again.

In 2020 there were 121 growers and the first growing season for legalized hemp in 2019 started with 125 growers.