Volatile incomes, trade wars, and increasingly fickle consumers have had American farmers in a financial crisis over the last few years. When the 2018 Farm Bill overturned hemp’s illegal status, many farmers were excited by its prospects as an animal feed—and understandably so.
The plant provides a cheaper and more sustainable alternative to traditional animal feed. It requires fewer pesticides and herbicides, fewer soil additives, and minimal general maintenance since it’s considered a hardy plant.
On top of it all, it’s environmentally-friendly thanks to its soil-enriching properties and has diverse applications that provide sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels and plastics.
While it’s economically and environmentally viable, should you be using hemp as animal feed?
The Current State of Hemp as Animal Feed
Looking to use hemp as animal feed? Before you do, you’ll want to consider the following factors:
Legality and Regulation
The 2018 Farm Bill significantly changed federal policy on hemp by removing it from the Controlled Substance Act and classifying it as an agricultural product. However, it imparted restrictions on the THC level, setting the maximum limit at 0.3% by dry weight. The restrictions mean you can grow hemp as animal feed provided it meets the THC threshold and state-level guidelines on the methods of cultivation, licensure, and seed certification.
Since many state-level and federal regulations vary, you need to be aware of your state’s guidelines regarding commercial cultivation of hemp. As only 47 states allow hemp cultivation, you can easily find yourself on the wrong side of the law if you grow hemp in a state where it’s illegal despite federal policy on the same. However, interstate transportation is legal, even if it means transporting hemp through a state that doesn’t allow its cultivation.
Many products containing hemp have penetrated the pet market without approval. When it comes to commercial animal feed, hemp isn’t recognized as an ingredient by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). The regulatory body still harbors concerns regarding the safety of hemp residue in animal products meant for human consumption.
This didn’t change despite the 2018 Farm Bill which allowed commercial cultivation of industrial hemp. According to AAFCO, hemp has yet to undergo adequate scientific review to determine its utility and safety as an ingredient in animal feed. More research is required to determine whether hemp-derived animal feed meets the conditions needed to deem it a GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe).
For that to happen, hemp-derived products must be subjected to a scientific review by an established hemp company that will scientifically document its safety as an animal feed. If it’s defined fit for use as an ingredient in animal feed by AAFCO, it’ll be listed on the regulatory organization’s official publication.
In 2015, AAFCO requested the hemp industry to submit relevant data for scientific review so it could establish definitions for hemp-derived animal feeds, specifically those with hemp seed oil, whole hemp seeds, and hempseed meal as ingredients.
Even though this would help recognize hemp as a safe ingredient for animal feed, the hemp industry has yet to submit their data. However, the Hemp Seed Coalition and other industry players are working to make submissions to gain legal approval.
Advantages of Hemp as Animal Feed
While uncertainty lingers when it comes to regulation, there’s no doubt that hemp has a lot to offer when used as animal feed:
Immense Nutritional Value
Hemp is a natural superfood with the potential to improve animal performance, production, and health. Hemp seed, in particular, is rich in healthy fatty acids such as Omega 9, Omega 6, Omega 3, and GLA. It’s also comes packed with proteins.
Hemp seed is also high in fiber, which is an important food component that’ll help improve the animals’ digestive systems. That’s not to mention the vast array of minerals it contains, including boron, copper, nitrogen, iron, zinc, nitrogen, and manganese.
With such immense nutritional value, you can use hemp as feed in the form of pellets, crushed seed meal, or as an oil supplement.
From an economic point of view, hemp has numerous potential benefits to cattle farmers. For instance, even after processing hemp seeds for oil, the residue contains about 20% healthy fat content (fatty acids included) and roughly 30% protein.
If hemp is approved as a safe ingredient for animal feed, this residue material may be repurposed and sold to provide an extra revenue stream for farmers. The potential for income diversification can help stabilize the agricultural sector, especially at a time when farming households are experiencing income volatility.
Hemp seed milk can also be a good alternative to cattle milk. With a large population of lactose intolerant Americans, this can be a viable option to supplement farm income from milk production. Hemp as an alternative will especially come in handy during seasons when the supply of cattle milk down.
Producing hemp milk is also economical since the main raw material (hemp seeds) is harvested from a plant that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance, time, and space to grow. Hemp milk has a pleasant nutty taste and packs lots of healthy fats and proteins despite having fewer calories than cow milk.
The economic value of hemp to farmers doesn’t end with the seeds. The plant’s stem and leaf residue can be used as animal bedding. Alternatively, farmers can use the fibrous stalks to create environmentally friendly and sustainable biofuel.
Should You Be Feeding Your Cattle Hemp?
In terms of nutritional and economic value, you have every reason to use hemp as cattle feed. However, you’ll be better off waiting for AAFCO to approve the use of hemp as an ingredient in animal feed. Otherwise, you may encounter challenges when marketing your animal products.
Additionally, you’ll want to check your state’s policy regarding commercial cultivation of industrial hemp, licensing, seed certifications, and other general cultivation guidelines.
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