Leading The Revolution: My Hemp Journey
Michael Bowman, AKA “Mr. Hemp”, is the founding board chair of the National Hemp Association, and co-founder of First Crop.
On a sweltering July night in 2017, I arrived in Washington, D.C. to meet a member of Law Enforcement Action Partnership who had ties close to the White House. By now, I’d become a long-time advocate for federal public policy, and, while I’d visited the capitol many times, this trip was different.
This trip was purely agenda-driven, focusing on what had been missing from our industry since that November’s Presidential election; no clear message or directive in the hemp industry. Over a beer at the Dubliner, we discussed my concerns.
I was assured the advisors around the President were largely in support of hemp as an agricultural economy. As it all turned out, the industry continued to grow, and, by December 2018, hemp was returned to its rightful place; America’s farms thanks to the Farm Bill. 48 years after Nixon’s Executive Order placed this agricultural crop on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, we were in the dawn of a new era.
Dawn of a New Era
Six years ago, we were literally just a few words on a piece of paper in front of a Rules Committee in the United States Congress. During that time, the U.S. has gone from zero to the third-largest hemp producer in the world under our research pilot program. It demonstrates the ability of Americans and entrepreneurs to understand and grasp big, new ideas.
And I truly believe industrial hemp is the next big new idea.
The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill gave traditional farmers an opportunity to look at hemp as a legitimate third crop. It’s a crop that can be used in their rotations and may well displace soybean acres. If you think of the hemp crop as a protein and oil crop, then it basically is the same thing as the soybean, with the added bonus of the absorption of CO2 during its growing cycle. Then, the other lane is really what we’ve seen over the past four years — the value of high-production CBD oil, which can be grown on smaller acreage.
It’s more than just CBD oil, though, as there’s an abundance of other things that it’s going to offer. From tangible goods like fiber, food, hemp proteins, animal feed, animal bedding and bioplastics, to the ability to regenerate soil and draw carbon out of the atmosphere at rates that can exceed general mature forests, this plant has a little bit of something for everybody. It’s why it’s quite literally a “dream crop.”
This is a chance to reinvigorate agriculture. The average age of the American farmer is inching upwards every year. We’re up to 58 now. We’ve got a real succession challenge in a lot of these areas, and the fact that we’ve got something that stimulates the thought process of young people who would have never thought to come back may be the most exciting thing for me.
Future for (Mr.) Hemp
Now that hemp is legal, it’s my mission to promote the cultivation of hemp by small- and mid-sized farms, giving them products and services that they’re going to need to be successful. This goal led me to co-found First Crop, a public benefit company that officially launched last month, that’s dedicated to improving the health and wellness of people and the planet through the regenerative power of hemp. As a fully integrated hemp business, First Crop empowers rural farmers to succeed, providing them with unique economic opportunities, while recirculating a significant share of its profits to support them, the communities and the land on which they rely.
From seed and site selection to planting, growing and harvesting, First Crop ensures that each farmer’s crop is not only successful, but also optimized for its ultimate use in CBD health and wellness consumer products. We do this by subsidizing hemp farming inputs to lower the upfront costs for farmers, sharing 5 percent of profits with our farming partners, while donating 10 percent of profits to the First Crop Foundation, which will make charitable grants to local community organizations to support critical social and environmental programs.
Our first products will be made from the first crop of organically grown hemp, cultivated in Colorado and New Mexico. We’re seeing an enlightened consumer — consumers who want to know what’s in their products, where it came from, and what it’s doing for the community or the earth, whether it’s local or global.
Hemp has staying power. And, with an opportunity to be the legitimate third crop in the United States behind soybean and corn, I think this really is just the spark to a new kind of agricultural revolution — and that hemp will be the star of that show.
This article originally appeared in Green Entrepreneur.