The hemp farming industry will hit the dirt this year when farmers in Tennessee drop the crop due to a lack of profits. (RJ Sangosti, Denver Post file)

Hemp farming in Tennessee hits the dirt after 2015 struggles

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Many Tennessee farmers who participated in the state’s return to industrial hemp farming are not planning on growing the highly regulated seed this year, saying it wasn’t profitable last year, in part because of delays in getting the seeds through U.S. customs.

In 2015, the state had about 50 farmers sign up to grow the crop for the first time in more than 70 years. This year, with less than two weeks left to apply for a growing permit, 25 farmers have applied, WBIR-TV reported.

Cocke County farmer Chuck Mason said he thought the crop would be a “gold mine” for his family, but when farmers’ seeds were more than a month late in arriving because of customs delays, the crop turned into a bust for his farm.

Mason said he had been planning to drastically expand his hemp-growing operation this year, but after last year’s failure he will return to growing hay. He said that numerous farmers he knows are also abandoning the crop.

“I’m just not willing to take that chance this year,” Mason said.

Tennessee began offering the permits last year in the hopes that the plant will become a cash crop for areas hurt by the falling demand for other agricultural products, such as tobacco. Hemp is a variety of the cannabis plant and is low in the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, THC.

Washington County farmer Wayne Smith told the Johnson City Press that he was offered $7 for his small yield of 10 pounds of hemp seeds last year. He had paid $254 for a state permit to grow the crop.

Smith decided to keep the seeds and remain positive.

“I’m going to use the harvested seed to make oil and maybe sell it as a novelty item,” he said.

April 1 is the deadline for farmers to apply for a hemp permit this year.