FILE - Hemp plant

Fresh agricultural hemp

(The Center Square) – Cultivation is moving ahead for farmers in the newly launched hemp industry in Texas, which state lawmakers approved last year.

“The learning and environmental curve in Texas is steep. Some growers are having a better time than others,” Zachary Maxwell, president of Texas Hemp Growers, told The Center Square by email.

Heat and humidity are taking a toll as growers determine which hemp varieties perform best in their area; due to the ability to fine-tune environmental conditions, indoor crops appear to be faring better than those outdoors, Maxwell said.

“This month, I expect to see more farmers begin the process of harvesting their crop,” Maxwell said. “The growers who will have the biggest challenges in harvest are those who grew too much and didn't adequately plan for the labor needed to harvest and process the plants.”

At this early stage, the measurable effect of hemp pricing on the grower's market is negligible, Maxwell said.

“Almost all Texas farmers are experimenting this year, with an understanding they may only break even, or perhaps even take a loss,” Maxwell said. “There was a significant reduction in planted acreage across the country this year, due to the price slump. With that reduction in planting, I expect the price index for raw hemp materials will increase and lead to greater opportunity next season. But, because Texas is just coming online this year, it's hard to say if that slump has put off growers. According to Texas Department of Agriculture, over 5,000 acres were licensed this year.”

Kyle Bingham, president of the Texas Hemp Growers Association, told The Center Square his operation tried 13 different kinds of plant varieties, three of which are doing well.

“We are going to have to be patient,” Bingham said. “Hemp is not a silver bullet. It’s a great complement to a lot of other crops.”

Industry leaders concur longer-term investment is paramount.

“Investors who will want to grow with us ... are committed to the long-term goal of what this could look like,” Bingham said. “The most important thing is if you don’t have an end buyer and end contract, do not grow hemp, do not speculate [on] the market.”

Better understanding of hemp by the governing bodies – the USDA, the Texas Department of Agriculture and the Department of State Health Services – will help bring rules and regulations more in-line with what growers expect from the plant, Maxwell said.

“Right now, the regulations and fees are burdensome, and even pricing some growers out of the market,” Maxwell said. “Less is more when it comes to regulating our growers. I'd like to see the governing entities revisit the rules developed for this program, and make appropriate adjustments.”

Maxwell emphasized that growing hemp is “not a cakewalk,” and it’s a misconception that the plant is drought-resistant and low maintenance.

“In reality, the best hemp plants are treated like well-grown tomatoes,” Maxwell said. “Time and attention are necessary to have the most profitable crop. Those who broadcast seeds into the field and let mother nature take its course often find they have an unmarketable crop that nobody wants to buy – ultimately leading to financial loss.”