NEW YORK (CIRCA) — When Owen Martinetti learned he was granted a license to grow and process cannabis, he was one semester away from graduating college. He was living in Queens, N.Y., and working in software at a fast food delivery company.
"I had no idea I was going to be growing hemp," he said.
Despite having zero prior experience working with weed and knowing very little about hemp-derived CBD — a natural strain of cannabis that's legal to have and won't get you high — Martinetti, 23, and his two business partners dropped out of school and moved 140 miles outside of Manhattan to open Hemp Chain Farms and Naturae LLC.
They have joined about 100 farmers legally planting more than 3,000 acres of cannabis across New York.
"I had no idea I was going to be growing hemp."
Hemp On The Rise
Farmers around the country are shuffling to get into the cannabis industry in an effort to meet the growing demand for hemp and CBD oil for use in health and wellness. For example, last year, the U.S. cultivated more than 25,000 acres of hemp across 19 states. This year, that same acreage of hemp will be grown in North Carolina alone.
The global industrial hemp market size is expected to reach $10.6 billion by 2025, according to a report by Grand View Research, Inc. The Hemp Business Journal estimates the CBD market alone will grow to $2.1 billion in consumer sales by 2020 with $450 million coming from hemp-based sources.
"Our farmers are really excited about the opportunity," New York Farm Bureau's Public Affairs Manager Steve Ammerman told Circa. "Having industrial hemp as another diversification opportunity is a way to spread the risk around in their business if they choose to grow it."
Mitigating Mother Nature's Threat
Mother Nature is a major concern for most farmers, but it poses a unique threat for hemp farmers, because they do not have access to federal crop insurance under the current Farm Bill, which sets parameters over what crops and commodities are eligible for farm insurance. Industrial hemp is not yet eligible.
"Let's say it hailed and destroyed our entire crop. We're done," Martinetti said.
The New York Farm Bureau and others like it are hoping the Department of Agriculture legalizes industrial hemp across the board and establishes a federal crop insurance program that does not yet exist for farmers looking to get involved.
"It's just one more tool that farmers can use that will help them invest in industrial hemp moving forward and have some kind of safety net in case the need should arise," Ammerman said.
New Kids On The Block
Risks aside, the Naturae crew is eager to get into the hemp industry.
Naturae, opened in 2017, makes full spectrum and distillate products sold to other retailers who want to make their own products, like tinctures, liquid gel caps, salves and drinks.
"Anything that you can put CBD into. We're going to be supplying oil," Martinetti said. Naturae is projected to have a revenue between $3 million and $7 million in its first year.
"We went with hemp, because there's no age limitations," Naturae Chief Strategy Officer Nicolas Guarino told Circa. "It's helping kids with seizures, it's helping older people with cancer. Dogs and pets and children can consume hemp as opposed to marijuana."