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Hemp Set to Overtake Tobacco in Kentucky Amid Boom for Growers, Suppliers

CannabisNewsWire Editorial Coverage: Hemp may be taking the first steps to overtake tobacco as a leading industry in Kentucky.

Sugarmade Inc. (OTCQB: SGMD) (SGMD Profile) is among the companies moving into Kentucky, with a million-dollar investment in hemp growth. Hemp’s national prominence is growing through deals such as Aurora Cannabis Inc.’s (TSX: ACB) (NYSE: ACB) collaboration with United Fighting Championship (UFC). Research work by Tilray Inc. (NASDAQ: TLRY) may involve using hemp to treat a growing range of physical and mental ailments. Curaleaf Holdings Inc. (OTCQX: CURLF) (CSE: CURA) is serving states without a strong, homegrown hemp industry, such as Florida. In addition, companies across the cannabis sector, such as Cronos Group Inc. (TSX: CRON) (NASDAQ: CRON), are diversifying their product ranges as more hemp crops come online.

  • Once the hemp heartland of the United States, Kentucky is rebuilding this lost industry following recent legislative changes.
  • Both tobacco farmers and specialist hemp companies are contributing to the boom.
  • The trend appears to also be profitable for companies providing support services, such as CBD extraction and hydroponic supplies.

A Surprising State

In some ways, Kentucky is a surprising place to see a hemp boom. Conservative lobbyists in the state have consistently resisted legalization measures for related plants, despite the wider growth of the industry. Given the “thin end of the wedge” arguments wielded against drug reform, the hemp industry might have expected to face a cold response in the state.

Yet the state’s hemp sector has deep roots. During the 19th century, Kentucky was the largest producer of hemp in the United States, producing three-quarters of the nation’s hemp fiber. As hemp production went into decline following the First World War, tobacco took its place as a major cash crop for the state. However, tobacco now faces challenges of its own. With hemp production made legal on a federal level for the first time in nearly half a century, Kentucky has once again emerged as the country’s leading manufacturer.

Overtaking Tobacco

Kentucky has become a go-to state for companies with an interest in hemp, such as Sugarmade Inc. (OTCQB: SGMD).

Since federal legislation allowed the production of hemp at test sites in 2014, Kentucky has taken a leading role in the industry. The Bluegrass state was one of only three states to exceed 100 acres by 2016, and research permits were issued for more than 12,000 acres in 2017. By the time the 2018 farm bill proposed the legalization of hemp across the United States, Kentucky hemp growers were becoming a powerful lobby. They won the support of the state’s politicians, helping to push national legislation through in December.

Sugarmade’s involvement in Kentucky comes through, at least in part, a million-dollar investment in Nevada-based Hempistry Inc. Hempistry has begun growing high-grade hemp on a 23,000-acre land option it holds in Kentucky. High in cannabidiol (CBD), an active ingredient in high demand for wellness products, this hemp offers a chance to maximize earnings from the land and set down roots for larger operations in the state.

Commentators watching the development of hemp in Kentucky have speculated that plant could overtake tobacco, once the state’s leading cash crop. A growing number of savvy tobacco farmers have started growing hemp on part of their land, hedging their bets against the decline in tobacco sales. Hemp certainly appears to be a natural alternative to tobacco for these farmers, as it can be grown in similar conditions and sold into related markets.

Consequently, the Kentucky hemp industry is already turning into a large and diverse one, driven by two separate trends. One is the need of farmers for new crops, as declining tobacco sales and the pressure of trade wars impact their profits. The other is the emergence of companies with a focus on hemp and related crops, such as Sugarmade. These companies provide specialist tools and invaluable knowledge, while the farmers bring decades of experience growing crops in the region. Old and new knowledge combine to build a booming industry.

Looking to buoy up the economic health of their state, Representative James Comer and Senator Mitch McConnell have pushed the hemp agenda at a national level, creating the space for Kentucky’s hemp industry to thrive. McConnell has been particularly crucial, using his position as majority leader to advocate for hemp reform, including publicly reinforcing his support for the industry through a tour of the state with Sonny Perdue, head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). With this growing federal support, Kentucky hemp growers appear to be making long-term investments, confident that politicians will ensure a friendly business climate.

Providing the Fundamentals

Of course, it takes more than political goodwill to make an industry grow. Suppliers providing tools and materials to support the fundamental activities involved in the industry are crucial. This need is what attracted Sugarmade to the industry and is still the bedrock of the company’s hemp strategy.

Sugarmade entered the hemp space as a supplier of hydroponic equipment. Hydroponics are essential to the hemp market. While some hemp is grown outdoors, much is grown indoors, where greater control can be asserted over growing conditions. Hydroponic systems are used for this indoor agriculture, and Sugarmade supplies some of the best available systems available. In addition, the company is looking forward, exploring the use of artificial intelligence to monitor crops and ensure the best growth.

Agricultural supplies are one of the bottlenecks in the hemp industry. The sector has grown so quickly that suppliers have struggled to keep up. These circumstances have created what appear to be ideal conditions for Sugarmade, as demand for its core products seem to be all but ensured, allowing the company to expand by acquiring other firms. This savvy pick-and-shovel strategy has taken Sugarmade beyond its original strategy and into the Kentucky cultivation sector through the investment in Hempistry.

Supplying producers has given Sugarmade space to diversify. In addition to hydroponics, SGMD now sells extraction equipment. This is used by hemp growers or specialist processing companies to extract the CBD from hemp, so that it can then be sold to manufacturers as a raw ingredient. Sugarmade’s future plans include the introduction of new types of processing machines, aimed to keep the sector innovating and moving forward and also strengthen the company’s position as a leader in the space.

Subsidiary services such as extraction are one more reason why hemp may grow in importance to surpass tobacco. These services provide extra forms of employment and an extra boost for a state such as Kentucky. The state’s workers and tax base benefit not just from hemp farming but also from agricultural supplies, processing businesses and the entire supply chain of hemp and CBD products, a chain that looks set to only expand as the industry continues to see extraordinary growth.

The Hemp Boom

Big players from related industries are also making use of hemp to broaden what they offer as well.

Aurora Cannabis Inc. (TSX: ACB) (NYSE: ACB) recently acquired Hempco Food and Fiber Inc., a company it has been investing in since 2017. This provides Aurora with a high-volume supply of raw hemp from which it can extract cannabidiol for use in a wide range of products. The company is also working to raise the profile of hemp and find new ways to use the it. At least part of these efforts are being accomplished through a partnership with mixed martial arts company UFC. Aurora’s products and discoveries are designed to be used to help UFC athletes manage pain relief, tackle muscle strains, and enjoy the rest and relaxation they need between fights. As well as drawing attention to Aurora and hemp, the collaboration may prove invaluable insight into what CBD can do for professional athletes.

A pioneer in the use of cannabinoids, Tilray Inc. (NASDAQ: TLRY) is a company with a heavy focus on research, contributing to studies around the world. The company has recently gained permission from the U.S. government to import CBD to the states for clinical trials at the NYU School of Medicine. These studies will explore the effectiveness of CBD in treating patients suffering from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and AUD with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

While regions such as Kentucky are seeing a hemp boom, others have yet to see such growth and remain underserved for CBD products. Curaleaf Holdings Inc. (OTCQX: CURLF) (CSE: CURA) is focused on these areas, taking the opportunity provided by unmet demand. States such as Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York have limited licensing and large populations, making them ideal settings for this strategy. Curaleaf is about to open its 26th dispensary in Florida.

Cronos Group Inc. (TSX: CRON) (NASDAQ: CRON) is working to strengthen its position in the hemp market through the recently completed acquisition of four subsidiaries of the Redwood Holding Group. This adds a range of hemp-derived consumer products to Cronos’s lines, giving it more prominence in the market.

The hemp boom isn’t limited to Kentucky, but with growing political and corporate support, the state appears set to return to its former place as the U.S. hemp leader.

For more information on Sugarmade, visit Sugarmade Inc. (OTCQB: SGMD)

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