Last December, America officially legalized hemp with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. The new law is a game-changer for the agricultural industry in America as farmers can now start growing and selling the non-intoxicating cannabis crop across the country. But it will be a while before the United States can top the world's biggest hemp producer.
Simply put, nobody grows more hemp than China. Not now and not in the foreseeable future. Chinese farmers have planted an estimated 200,000 - 250,000 acres of hemp, according to The Global State of Hemp - an industry report published this week by Hemp Business Journal (a division of New Frontier Data). That's enough hemp to cover over 300,000 NFL football fields, so America would have to build a farm the size of Texas and New Mexico combined to outgrow China. And other countries aren't likely to outdo their Asian rival either.
"It will take a number of years before any single country, including the US can, compete against the current production volume in China," New Frontier told Civilized via email.
And even if America could plant over 250K acres this year, China would still likely come out on top as its producers are continuing to expand their operations.
"Chinese producers will continue to scale up capacity as demand for hemp products in the U.S. continues to grow, which will further widen the gap against other markets," New Frontier added.
But that doesn't mean the Farm Bill was 'too little, too late' for America's chances of cashing in on the nascent industry. By allowing hemp to be grown and manufactured into consumer products, America will profit by reducing its reliance on hemp imports.
"The US is already the largest importer of hemp consumer products and with growing awareness and acceptance of the plant, it will remain the world's largest consumer market," New Frontier told Civilized.
That means a flood of made-in-America hemp products will soon be able to compete with imports in a market that has already shown high consumer demand. And that boost to domestic production could see America dominate many aspects of the industry beyond gross production.
"There will be an opportunity for the U.S. to become a leader in emerging applications for hemp, including high-capacity CBD processing, hemp plastics and other applied materials, bio-fuels, etc. as production and processing capacity increases domestically," New Frontier told Civilized.
Those gains could cut into China's domination of the hemp market, where the United States is a close second in terms of the world's top sellers.
"China led all countries with nearly $1.2 billion in sales in 2018, followed by the United States ($1.0 billion), Europe ($980 million), and South and Central America ($220 million)," according to the Hemp Business report, which added that America's section of industry "grew 34% in 2018" despite federal cannabis prohibition preventing many states from growing and selling the crop.
So even if America doesn't top China in hemp sales this year, there's no doubt that it will see massive growth in 2019 and 2020, when the Hemp Business report expects the American market will see $2.6 billion in sales.