By Jean Lotus, PanXchange
The U.S. Department of Agriculture dropped the second tranche of the total $3.5 billion Climate Smart Commodities grant announcements in December, and hemp is the focus of five grants funded for around $5 million each.
The grants will explore agricultural carbon-sequestration using biochar and soil microalgae and using hemp in bioplastics. Grants will also support small family farmers to grow fiber hemp and adopt climate smart practices that will reduce greenhouse gasses.
Two grants are being administered by lead partner Florida A&M University, based in Tallahassee.
The first Florida A&M grant will support underserved farmers to use biochar in their farms. Hemp is one of the crops involved, along with legumes, leafy green vegetables and citrus. The grant will also partner with the California Almond Board, several food and sustainability organizations and universities in Maryland, Florida and California.
The second Florida A&M grant specifically looks at the relationship between hemp and beneficial soil microalgae. With the help of the Jackson, Mississippi-based National Hemp Growers Cooperative (NHGC), underserved farmers will be paid incentives to grow fiber industrial hemp. NHGC plans to buy all industrial hemp from all farmers for the duration of the grant. Other partners include Alabama A&M University, Southern University and University of Florida (UF-IFAS).
Underserved farmers in Tennessee will also partner to grow fiber industrial hemp through the third grant administered by Tennessee State University and partnering with the Hemp Alliance of Tennessee, University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, Tennessee Department of Agriculture and the Tennessee New Farmer Academy. The grant will seek to expand markets for fiber industrial hemp.
The fourth grant, overseen by the Organic Association of Kentucky, will provide “sufficient and compelling incentives” to adopt greenhouse gas-reduction ag practices that improve soil health and water quality and promote wildlife habitats. Hemp is among the crops included, along with grass fed lamb and beef; corn, soybeans and small grains; produce; dairy and agroforestry. Kentucky-based Victory Hemp Foods is a partner, along with state universities, food associations, meat producers and organic farming groups.
Finally, hemp’s role in bioplastics will be explored in a Virginia-based partnership led by Dallas-based PlantSwitch LLC, makers of biodegradable straws and cutlery. Farmers will be encouraged to plant hemp as a cover crop and the grant will fund research to evaluate industrial hemp as an ingredient in bioplastics. Other partners include plastic companies and several Virginia-based universities, including Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), Virginia State University and Virginia Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education.
Grants are being funded through the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation. A total of 450 grants totaling $3.5 billion have been awarded.
Along with earlier larger-dollar grants announced in the fall from USDA’s Climate Smart Commodities financing, hemp has a small but important place in the climate-smart commodities ecosystem. These projects will certainly expand the U.S. acreage of fiber and industrial hemp the next growing season and support underserved producers who want to get a head start in the industry.
Jean Lotus is a Colorado-based award-winning journalist and hempreneur who writes about the American West and sustainable food and technologies.