Georgia Farmers: The Heroes of the Hemp Industry

When Hurricane Michael hit Georgia in 2018, it devasted around $3 billion worth of fields, crops and equipment.  Georgia farmers lost between $500 to $600 million in the devastation of cotton alone.  “These staggering numbers are tough to read, but Georgia farmers have shown great resilience through this unsettling time and we will continue to stand with them,” said Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black. Disaster relief programs were set in place after the storm, but with the amount of damage and time lost, there is still a long road to recovery ahead.

The hit to Georgia farmers was a severe blow to the entire state’s economy since agriculture contributes over $71 billion  annually. It is, in fact, the largest industry contribution in the state. The impact extended to homes and families as well. Although loan programs were put in place following the damage of hurricane Michael, many farmers are only now receiving support federally.

As farmers and stakeholders across the state look to rebuild, the emergence of hemp as a newly approved crop for production could prove a timely opportunity. With legislative and regulatory hurdles being cleared – and national demand for hemp products growing – the opportunity is real.  Commercial hemp can be used in over 20,000 products including textiles, construction materials and cosmetics.

Increasingly, farmers looking to replace revenue lost from crops like cotton, are exploring a move to hemp. Its growth period  is much shorter than cotton’s – and it yields more product per acre. Hemp’s impact on farmland fertility is low; it draws fewer nutrients from the soil than cotton and requires less pesticide and water.

Harvest Connect knows the value of farmers and wants to take part in this rebuilding process. Taking the time and effort to process a new crop can be quite a commitment, and Harvest Connect wants to establish relationships to support this season of change.  These partnerships in hemp production will be mutually beneficial and overall promote Georgia growth and Georgia good.

Opportunities in Hemp

The demand for hemp-derived goods and the production of cannabidiol (CBD) is expected to reach anywhere from $15 to $20 billion in worth by 2024. Wellness and beauty industries are eager to incorporate the ingredient in their products and on their shelves for public use. Rather than rely on other states or imported goods to fulfill this need, Georgia is well positioned to meet this need.

Georgia has a wide range of areas suitable for cultivating hemp. From mountainous terrain in the north to the sundried plains mid-state, Georgia has the versatility to anticipate potential hemp farming needs long-term. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved Georgia’s plan for hemp farming and is ready to move forward with licensing. Kevin Quirk, CEO of Harvest Connect, shares his support for the accepted plan and encouragement to the farmers it will benefit in AJC’s latest article.

One of the most impressive skills farmers have is the adaptability to respond to the behavior of a crop and use their knowledge to help the crop acclimate. Atlanta Journal Constitution writer Mark Niesse reported on the work of Tim Coolong, a horticulturist and assistant professor from the University of Georgia. Coolong experimented with the first legal hemp farms in several regions of the state and expects hemp production to thrive. Coolong tested growth in Watkinsville, Blairsville and Tifton, Georgia and recorded the variety in which the crop grew. He anticipates the crop to do better in northern regions with cool temperatures and feels the long growth seasons Georgia offers will be beneficial to the consistency for farmers. He intends for his initial research to help farmers discern the best way to approach hemp farming in their area.

Reducing Risk for an Emerging Commodity

Harvest Connect is passionate about pioneering Georgia-produced hemp products and being a leader in developing and maintaining high quality products and that meet rigorous compliance standards. In light of the strong opportunities for Georgia hemp production and the demand in both local and national markets, Harvest Connect looks to create genuine partnerships with agricultural businesses. Farmers are the first piece of the supply chain and are essential to creating a sustainable and efficient process of goods.

Farmers are businesspeople who are familiar with risk. Revenue from hemp, like any commodity, can be uncertain due to fluctuating demand and market price. As the hemp industry emerges and grows, Harvest Connect is determined to offer farmers a fair, minimum price for hemp. “We’ll be able to develop a program for them that will not only give them the security that they can go in and plant a good crop, but they’re going to get the support and help from us along the way,” said Quirk. “We’re committed to ensuring that they’re going to get the maximum return for their crop.” 

A Growing Partnership

Harvest Connect is determined to take part in the uncertainty of today in order to help build Georgia’s brand through quality goods and processes. “I’ve seen other states looking at compliance as necessary but a necessary evil instead of looking at it like their friend,” said Harvest Connect’s Vice President of Operations, Charlie McKenzie.

Harvest Connect aims to have Georgia actively involved in the national conversation of proper hemp production by working with farmers, policymakers and industry experts. Creating this compliance, McKenzie feels is an incredible opportunity for collaboration with farmers and the supply chain.

This partnership is unfolding now, working toward a time when not only hemp but medical marijuana legalization drives demand for a crop well suited to the state. Harvest Connect is hard at work building relationships to ensure safe production of hemp and building a market to do good for Georgia’s farmers and the economy they support.

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