Photo: UVM Extension Northwest Crops & Soils Program
Statewide poll shows public support and opportunity for expanding industrial hemp production in Vermont.
Vermont Business Magazine As the growing season gets underway, farmers throughout Vermont are trying their hand at a new crop - hemp. With the crop’s re-emergence in the state, University of Vermont researchers conducted a statewide poll to assess Vermonters’ opinions and knowledge of hemp production and evaluate market opportunities for growers.
Poll results showed over three-quarters of Vermonters support industrial hemp production in the state with fewer than 5 percent opposed. Support is spread across genders and geographies with Vermonters throughout the state expressing strong support for the growing industry. The poll, a subset of the annual Vermonter Poll conducted by the UVM’s Center for Rural Studies, also evaluated consumers’ awareness and use of hemp products, providing a baseline for tracking and evaluating the industry over time.
Despite strong support for the hemp industry overall, results suggest that consumers are less aware of uses beyond the widely-publicized, therapeutic applications of the CBD compound found in hemp. Awareness of CBD is greatest (78.5%), followed by awareness of hemp clothing (70.4%), hemp animal bedding, rope or garden fabric (58.7%), hemp paper (35%), and finally hemp concrete or plastic (16.2%). For Vermont producers seeking to diversify their agricultural crops or in search of their next entrepreneurial endeavor, these emerging new markets present an opportunity.
“There are readily available market opportunities in Vermont for hemp products beyond just CBD, such as grain, which can be used for food, cosmetic, and health-related products,” said Heather Darby, an agronomic and soils specialist with UVM Extension and hemp producer, researcher, and educator. “Vermont provides more than just the right climate and soil to grow hemp - it’s also a great place to grow a business, thanks to its supportive local and entrepreneurial community.”
Legalized for cultivation by the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is a non-psychoactive plant and can serve as a low-input, quick-growing and sustainable material. It also provides a new opportunity to bolster rural livelihoods and could help preserve Vermont’s working landscape. Already, there are more than 570 registered hemp growers expected to cultivate over 3,200 acres of hemp in Vermont this year, according to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.
Steve Kostell, designer and assistant professor in UVM’s Department of Community Development and Applied Economics (CDAE), is evaluating opportunities for micro-manufacturing of products from industrial hemp. “Vermont can play a leading role in developing a new wave of manufactured goods. The state has significant potential to take advantage of sustainable hemp products that not only move us away from environmentally harmful materials, but support the resiliency of our working lands and rural communities,” said Kostell.
Current use of hemp-based products suggests market opportunities for growth. More than one third (34.2%) of survey respondents reported using hemp-based products such as CBD therapeutics, with fewer respondents reporting use of hemp-based clothing (19.2%); materials and tools, including hemp fiber-based bags, rope, paper (18.7%); lotions and other health products (13.2%); and food (5%).
Jane Kolodinsky, director of the Center for Rural Studies and chair of UVM’s CDAE Department, noted the rural economic development potential industrial hemp presents, but noted some challenges facing current producers.
“CBD is booming, but like most agricultural products or commodities, it will likely level out,” said Jane Kolodinsky, director of the Center for Rural Studies and chair of UVM’s CDAE Department. “There is potential for industrial hemp production to be profitable beyond CBD, but there is also a fair amount of uncertainty around regulation and processing. Documenting successful value chains from production and processing to manufacturing and marketing can spur local economic development and help keep agriculture and the working landscape alive in our state,” notes Kolodinsky.
Kolodinsky is part of a team of researchers and educators at UVM investigating the potential of hemp as part of Vermont’s economy. The Center for Rural Studies will continue to evaluate consumer opinions and knowledge around hemp as part of its annual Vermonter Poll.
The Vermonter Poll
Since 1990, the Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont has conducted annual state-wide polls of Vermont residents. The Vermonter Poll is a statistically representative, statewide telephone poll conducted in February or March of each year. Households are selected randomly using lists of Vermont telephone numbers generated from landline and cellphone telephone directories. Researchers, policy makers, social advocates, organizations and institutions may sponsor questions to be included in the Vermonter Poll. Contact the Center for Rural Studies with questions about the Vermonter Poll or to find out how the Vermonter Poll can help your organization.