Hemp industry explores lobby group with Graves, Thorne, Valesko
March 8, 2019
A coalition of hemp farmers, farm service companies, processors, crop insurance agents and lenders, marketers and allied industry stakeholders on March 7 announced their intention to explore the feasibility of establishing a trade association to represent industrial hemp in Washington.
In a news release, the coalition noted that the farm bill "includes language permitting the growth of industrial hemp — but leaves it to each state to determine its own rules for the cultivation, transportation and sale of hemp. Different from the cannabis strains that have high levels of THC (the compound that delivers users a "high"), industrial hemp has less than 0.3 percent THC and is used to produce textile, paper, paint, oil, biodegradable plastics and more."
The coalition is working with three veteran Washington lobbyists, Scott Graves, Christopher Thorne and Matthew Valesko.
Graves, a former House Agriculture Committee Republican staff director, heads the agriculture and nutrition practice at Williams & Jensen. through which he serves as president of the American Association of Crop Insurers.
Thorne is a former Associated Press reporter who was the chief communications aide for Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., before going to work for the Beer institute and Growth Energy. He is now the principal partner of Independent Public Affairs, where he counsels political candidates, corporations, nonprofits, trade associations and issue advocacy organizations.
Valesko worked for the National Cotton Council before going to work with Graves to serve as Williams & Jensen's liaison to congressional staff and Trump administration officials on agriculture issues.
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"Hemp has enormous potential in the United States as a source of fiber, seed and oil. It's a high-value crop that needs fewer inputs and fewer acres, and it's resistant to both drought and cold," Graves said.
"The 2018 farm bill unlocked the door, but we need to push it open wider and we can do that with a focus on improving federal regulation and policy. There are estimates that the U.S. hemp market could double in the next five years, from $800 million to nearly $2 billion, which is a major shot in the arm to American farmers."
But Graves also noted that "Uncertainty and obstacles remain that could slow or stifle a crop that had been prohibited from growth in the U.S. since the end of World War II. Those issues range from general awareness of the legal nature of industrial hemp to federal rules related to risk management and commodity policy."
"We see a lot of potential in hemp as a high-value crop that could help draw and keep a younger generation to farming," said Jeff McVey, an Oklahoma farmer.
"And it's a green alternative to other raw materials that currently go into products like home insulation. But we also know there are still significant hurdles we have to address to grow the industry. We're looking at a trade association because oftentimes, these issues are best handled by a single voice, showing that we are united, and serious about this business."
The coalition also named 22 members of its advisory group, and released quotes from some of them. ❖