GREENSBORO – Farmers, agriculture businesses and investors alike are looking to capitalize on North Carolina’s emerging industrial hemp market.

To better support the state’s agri-business ecosystem, Greensboro-based research and development hub Gateway Research Park wants to gather and communicate the latest insights into all things hemp. As part of their initiative to do so, they’re hosting a conference bringing together leaders in the space to discuss the opportunities and regulatory considerations presented by the industry.

The Piedmont Triad Industrial Hemp Conference, set for October 17 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., will highlight federal and state agriculture policy, along with insight into industrial hemp growing practices, uses and CBD production. The event also features industry perspectives from growers, processors, biomass testers and legal experts.

Gateway Research Park Executive Director John Merrill says he and his team were inspired to start the conference due to the increasing level of interest in industrial hemp.

“Like many people, we’ve been watching what’s been going on in industrial hemp,” Merrill says. “It’s a pretty intriguing crop, given the myriad of uses that you can have for the byproducts that come from it.”

In order to understand these uses and opportunities, Gateway reached out to a broad cross-section of leaders from industry, academia and government to share their knowledge on where the industry is headed.

Throughout the day, the audience will hear panels and presentations from speakers representing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the NC Industrial Hemp Association, NC A&T State University and NC State University, as well as companies like Asheboro-based Innovative AgriProductsGrowers Hemp, Durham-based Avazyme, Inc.

NC Hemp Market: Federal Policy Expands Opportunities

Hemp policy and regulation will be a major topic for discussion at the conference. Newly enacted federal programs and state spending are providing more support for hemp production in North Carolina’s agri-business sector.

In 2017, North Carolina began operating a hemp pilot research program that allowed farmers to receive a license to grow industrial hemp for research purposes. Opportunities were further broadened last December through the passage of the federal 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act (or 2018 Farm Bill), which officially made hemp a legal agricultural commodity. The law allows hemp cultivation not just for research and development, but also for commercial sale and cross-state transport.

With OK from Congress, US hemp market set to boom

“After the law was enacted, what we’ve seen over the last 12-18 months is more dialogue about industrial hemp, more articles in newspapers and social media, and an increasing level of interest in industrial hemp and where it goes from here,” Merrill said.

The industrial hemp field has generated a strong response from North Carolina legislators, growers and entrepreneurs, says Garland Burton Jr., principal at Charlotte real estate development firm Liberty Atlantic Group, which is a co-presenter of the conference.

“We’re starting to see strong interest from financial markets – insurers, banks – with still moderate development in downstream retail and products markets,” Burton adds. “And while much of the initial legislative and regulatory focus has naturally been directed upstream, innovation, research and consumer demand continue to create and uncover gaps in various supply chains.”

As reported by WRAL last March, North Carolina has 634 licensed farmers and 413 licensed processors growing hemp on around 8,000 acres and 3.4 million square feet of greenhouse space. These figures are a significant increase from just a year ago, which is also reflective of national trends—in 2018 the amount of hemp farming (by acres) increased by more than triple the previous year.

Adding more fuel to this growth, market research from BDS Analytics anticipates that hemp-derived CBD sales will reach $20 billion by 2024, up from $1.9 billion in 2018.

Industrial hemp: North Carolina poised to exploit an old new crop

“We have a lot of farmers in the state looking for alternative crops to help them make a living,” Merrill says. “Given that we are a heavily agricultural state and we have a lot of farms seeking solutions and opportunities, I think we are very well positioned to become a significant factor in the [hemp] industry.”

Gateway Research Park Provides Support to Hemp Businesses

In addition to providing industry insights, Merrill says he hopes the Piedmont Triad Industrial Hemp Conference will also serve as an introduction of Gateway Research Park’s resources and services for hemp businesses and research projects.

“At our two campuses, we have programs and capabilities to offer folks who might get into the production and growth of industrial hemp,” Merrill says. “We hope that as the industry continues to grow, those that can take advantage of the resources we provide will remember us and come back and see us.”

The Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering (JSNN), a partnership between NC A&T State University and UNC Greensboro, is based at the Gateway Research Park in Greensboro. (Photo Credit: JSNN)

The Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering (JSNN), a partnership between NC A&T State University and UNC Greensboro, is based at the Gateway Research Park in Greensboro. (Photo Credit: JSNN)

The park first opened in 2008 and has been operating with tenants for 11 years. Its two campuses offer laboratory space and offices for businesses, university programs and other tenants. The park is also home to the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, a collaboration of UNC-Greensboro and NC Agricultural and Technical (A&T) State University. The JSNN is a co-presenter of the conference.

Burton says that Liberty Atlantic Group—as a partner to the Gateway Research Park in hosting the conference—hopes to “showcase Gateway’s state-of-the-art laboratory, industrial and manufacturing space to this emerging market community.”

“In addition, we seek to highlight Greensboro’s excellent community leaders, the favorable business environment, and all of the great amenities that the City of Greensboro has to offer,” Burton added.