At the July 8 meeting of the Roxboro Kiwanis Club at La Piazza restaurant in Uptown Roxboro, Earl Brooks and his wife, Lisa, visited the club. Brooks is an experienced tobacco farmer and is currently maintaining a salad farm and growing hemp.
He said that his interest in alternative crops led to the knowledge that organic lettuce grown in greenhouses is popular. Brooks therefore made contacts with suppliers in the Triangle area where he is marketing his crop. He noted that this is largely done by text. He uses the name Community Green for his business.
Brooks indicated that he has been involved with hemp for the past three years. In the first year, he just went to meetings and on tours in order to learn about the commodity. He explained that growing hemp dates back to Revolutionary War days.
It can be used as fiber for clothing, rope and the automotive industry, due to its strength properties. Air bags, door handles and other high stress areas of luxury vehicles comprise the automotive market. It can also be a feed supplement for animals. Investment in growing hemp can cost $15,000-18,000 at the outset. There is no price support and there is considerable risk involved.
Brooks estimates that there are around 20 growers in Person County and approximately 1,200 statewide, using 3 million square feet of greenhouse space. In greenhouses a crop can be turned every 90 days, whereas only one crop per year can be produced in the field.
As to whether this will be the next tobacco, he says only time will tell. The hemp plant has no resistance to disease, and cannot be raised with the same mindset as tobacco. Mold is also an issue if the environment is not controlled. There can be no use of chemicals in the growth cycle. Theft is also an issue. Some people believe that it is the same as marijuana, but it is not. However, there are those who may be putting it on the marijuana market by lacing it with fentanyl. Brooks said that CBD and THC are totally different. Hemp must have below .03 percent THC in order to be legal.
He noted that Virginia Tech and the State of Kentucky are on the leading edge of the hemp revolution, and he jokingly observed that Chapel Hill is also ahead of the curve.
The future of hemp is in fiber and developing more uses for it. Currently, hemp oil is the most commercially successful, for pain and anxiety relief. Brooks warned about a lot of the CBD products being offered online, in that they may have very little CBD content.
It is only the bud of the plant that is valuable. The trick is to avoid pollination by a male plant. Growers use cloning of female plants instead. He exhibited a large bag that holds 10 pounds of buds, which will produce a mason jar of CBD oil. It is shot with alcohol, heated, spun and then dried to remove the alcohol. The market value of that quantity is $7,000. The market for the buds is $2.50/pound for 10 pounds, which Brooks says barely meets production cost.
As an example of some of the perils associated with this crop, Brooks indicated that he sent one 10-lb. bag by USPS and tracked it to the Raleigh postal stop, but it was lost thereafter and never recovered. He observed that marijuana companies are proliferating. North Carolina’s rules for hemp are very liberal and the out of state marijuana companies are getting into this in a big way.
He noted that big tobacco is also interested, since it already has the marketing apparatus in place. His concern is for the return to the farmer, which is not strong at present. He said that last year, Oregon had so much marijuana planted that it had a five-year surplus, which was only disposed of by moving it to California after its wild fires. Brooks said that the states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use are opposed to hemp development, because they need the land for marijuana production.
Brooks believes that big tobacco will not be able to control hemp and marijuana production the way that it did with tobacco, which could only be grown in a few states where the soil and environmental conditions were right. He summarized his presentation by saying that this is a difficult crop to grow. Humidity in the south is a big issue, as is water management, in that it cannot tolerate being in standing water very long.
He mentioned investment in hemp stock, which he said is risky and speculative. He noted Phillip Morris as an example, which bought a hemp plant in Canada for $1.2 billion, but then saw its stock price decline.