Texas Hemp Growers Association Collaborates with Farmers on Hemp Production
The Texas Hemp Growers Association (THGA) has the mission to help leverage farmer influence on the emerging industrial hemp industry. They provide farmers with the resources they need to make decisions regarding the cultivation and marketing of hemp and hemp-derived products. THGA provides practical expertise for anyone wanting to grow industrial hemp, while also working diligently to ensure that the livelihood of farmers is at the forefront of all discussions regarding hemp in Texas.
“For years farmers have created commodity trade associations for marketing, policymaking, research, and education,” says Tillery Sims, THGA Executive Director. “If we are to see hemp become a true rotational crop option it will follow the path of those other commodities. That path will be created by farmers who have led the way for centuries in innovation and strategic agricultural development. Associations that create the space for farmers to develop the industry are invaluable.”
In addition to dedicating time and resources to things like policy, infrastructure, and communications, THGA is progressive in supporting ventures that promote inputs, production, processing, and manufacturing systems that will benefit growers for generations to come and build stability in the emerging hemp industry. They aim to develop markets for industrial hemp and create and operate cooperative marketing organizations. THGA is also committed to maintaining a positive public image of industrial hemp and sustain strong working relationships with law enforcement agencies.
Legislatively, THGA is actively working with Sen. Charles Perry ( R ) who currently chairs the Senate Committee on Water, Agriculture & Rural Affairs and Representative Tracy King (D-Batesville), who originally wrote 2019’s Bill 1325 which paved the way for Texas farmers to grow industrial hemp. Right now, the THGA is working with the legislators to clean up the original bill’s rules and reflect the new USDA guidelines.
“We are happy with our communications on how the hemp program works here in Texas and how the year went,” says THGA’s President Kyle Bingham of Bingham Organics and Bingham Family Vineyards. “The communication is open, and lawmakers are receptive to our ideas.”
“Traditionally, Texas farmers grow cotton,” says Bingham. “We like the potential of hemp as a rotational crop, planting and harvesting before cotton season.”
While Bingham’s business is Bingham Family Vineyards, where his multigenerational wine growing family produces 100% Texas grown and crafted estate wines, the fullest expression of the High Plains, they are first, farmers. Several years ago, they saw opportunity in growing hemp, in rotation with their seasonal cotton crops. From their Bingham Organics hemp brand, they currently sell organic tinctures, but have their eyes set on the industrial side of growing hemp.
“We entered the industry as a CBD supplement company,” says Bingham. “But we see in the future that CDB will become a by-product of the hemp fiber industry. I am really excited with the prospects of using the whole plant.” And focus on the plant itself is where Bingham and the THGA have had its core efforts.
THGA is close to 100 members, whom all currently farm anywhere between 2,000-15,000 acres of other commodity crops. They are focusing primarily on genetics in 2021 as an association. “We are not in a traditional hemp growing environment here in Texas,” notes Bingham. “Many regions need to be concerned with overwatering hemp, and we don’t have that problem here. Much of the established data doesn’t apply to us. So, we are continuing our 2020 plant trials with 14-15 different genetics.”
This year, THGA will be testing different stock from Czech Republic and Italy. They also want to do a second trial with Canadian fiber. It wasn’t successful the first time, so farmers will try earlier planting dates to see if it does better. “We take a micro and macro approach. We also have Texas Tech is partnering with us on producing small lots of detailed varieties and different planting techniques. We are all looking for data.”
Growing to Scale
Once the viable varieties are known, Bingham says the next hurdle is how to grow thousands of acres of it for industrial use in the future. “We have to figure out how to mechanize this crop as the demand for industrial hemp grows. We want to be ready to target large-scale customers.”
Texas farmers see much potential coming for industrial hemp. “I think we will see hemp replace single use plastics in the future. As we better understand the need for biodegradable hemp-based products, we can work with plastics companies to create more sustainable solutions. There are lab-produced prototypes that, when put in soil, break down in less than 6 months. The issue is, how do we mass produce the concept, and minimize the costs.”
While there are many obstacles to overcome, that is the future THGA and its members envision. “Once we prove all this can be done, it will be a matter of time before legislators mandate it, with California leading the way.” Costs right now are prohibitive, notes Bingham, for much of the innovation. But as they learn more and as legislation supports sustainable solutions that industrial hemp brings to the table, it will drive the hemp industry forward into mass production.
“I hope that people realize the CBD rush is over, and fiber is coming in a few years,” notes Bingham. “With that said, it is a hard couple years ahead. We have to learn every step of the process before we are ready to grow millions of acres. In Texas, we grow four million cotton acres a year. If we hemp into a third year rotation, it’s in our ballpark.”
“Industrial hemp can bring manufacturing back to small town America, be a job maker. It is exciting to see.”