Standing between two rows of thigh-high hemp crops close to the Tennessee-Kentucky border, the retired owner of a New Hampshire convenience store cheerfully recalled why he chose to grow his first hemp crop this year.
Barry Paterno, 67, is a gardener, not a farmer — he likes to grow tomatoes and corn. But he saw on the local TV news that an acre of hemp could bring in as much as $50,000 a year. Paterno, who now lives in Tennessee, was inspired to begin his farming career.
Stories like his have been repeated across the country: Farmers are rushing to plant newly legalized hemp in hopes of striking it rich, or at least making a good chunk of change in a period of low commodity prices. Hemp is a nonpsychoactive form of cannabis.
But as growers across 34 states start to harvest as much as half a million acres of hemp this fall, many newcomers have no idea who will buy their crop or even who will prepare it for sale. Paterno, speaking during a tour of a farm owned by an organic farmer with experience growing marijuana, said he doesn't know what kind of return he’ll get on his $8,000 investment.
So far, Paterno has lost money on seeds that didn’t sprout and flower as promised. Some of the seeds were males even though he thought he was purchasing only the females that produce the cannabidiol, known as CBD, that he wants.
Wearing dark sunglasses, the slender first-time grower said he’s lost 30 pounds working 10-hour days pulling weeds and looking for pests across his 2-acre field. After the harvest, he plans to dry his hemp on his breezy wraparound porch in Middle Tennessee and store it, he said, until there’s less hemp on the market.
“Be prepared to store it till spring,” Paterno said. “No one will have it by then.”
Despite the buzz around hemp — particularly hemp CBD, a cannabis compound that’s become a wellness craze — hemp is harder to grow, process, and sell than many first-time growers realize. And the