Hemp Plants Big Bend
With proper permits and licenses, it is legal to grow hemp in Texas,
one of the most highly regulated crops in the state.

A hemp crop is taking root in Alpine and Marathon as part of one person’s mission to utilize the plant’s many industrial benefits.

Kevin Bishop, a green builder by trade, has built sustainable housing for thirty years, with the last eight in the Big Bend region. He works with reclaimed materials and follows Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards— the international rubric for green compliant practices. He’s committed to finding renewable solutions to the everyday demands of life, personally and professionally.

That’s why he’s drawn to hemp.

Kevin Bishop with hemp plant“Everything about this plant is wonderful,” Bishop revealed. “It fixes the soil. You can eat the seed, which is high in essential fatty acids and quality protein, and it has real medicinal value.”

The fibrous outer core can be used as building insulation and the woody inner core can be used for construction of light weight “hempcrete” bricks, the pinnacle in eco-building. Bishop is investigating all of these uses for the harvests he plans to eventually yield. It may take several years to get there, but he hopes to generate enough material to use hemp as the construction base for his own home.

His greenhouse nursery is based in Marathon, with three acres to expand outdoors on rich alluvial soils in Alpine.  He invested considerable time researching which varieties to plant, and was drawn to older European lines, used for making textiles and other industrial purposes.

These varieties are not part of the newer CBD market, which has swept across the nation as one of the latest health trends in recent years.

“At first, I was skeptical of CBD,” Bishop intimated. “I wrote it off as just another way people were trying to legalize marijuana. But then I tried it, and it works as an anxiety relief, and it doesn’t take much,” he shared.

He has family members who utilize hemp products in their diet, from the protein-rich seeds to the CBD-rich oils and emollients. He would love to be their source for these commodities if he gets to a point where he can grow and process enough.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of many cannabinoids present in the hemp plant, and newer hemp varieties are bred to increase the concentration of this medicinally valuable compound, lauded for anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, among other wellness benefits.

Bishop is interested in growing CBD-rich varieties, but has to be more careful with them, because, as CBD content rises, so does tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content.

Both marijuana and hemp are varieties of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa. However, hemp has a much lower concentration of THC, the compound that causes intoxicating effects.

Hemp is legally (and some might add, arbitrarily) defined as having less than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis. In comparison, in states where marijuana is legal, the cannabis plant is bred to contain an average of 12% THC, with up to 20% not uncommon— that’s 40-60 times more than what is present in hemp. In states like Oklahoma where medical marijuana is legal, or Colorado, where medical and recreational use is legal, people seek high THC strains for the euphoric and pain-relieving effects.

Yet any cannabis plant containing more than 0.3 percent THC is considered illegal at the federal level. Sound confusing? Well it is, especially to law enforcement, who have been among the biggest detractors on the road to legalizing hemp, because all cannabis plants look and smell remarkably similar, regardless of THC content.
Regulatory agencies are still working out the details on how to manage this aspect of the industry, but Texas farmers forge on, under the recently created Hemp Program managed by Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA).

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1325 in June 2019, allowing for the production, manufacture, retail sale, and inspection of industrial hemp crops and products in the state, with administration of the program provided by TDA. Texas’s program was approved by the United State Department of Agriculture in January of this year, and TDA began accepting applications for licenses to grow hemp mid-March. Some states, like Arizona, got started as early as May of 2018.

With limited infrastructure resources, Bishop is starting small. It’s most important for him to get his feet wet and just see what the process is like, from navigating the regulatory process to weeding out the best varieties to grow in the high desert of Big Bend. This year’s goals are to finish his greenhouse and water catchment system and get to know the plant. He chose seeds from the list of state approved options and is already noticing which varieties fare better than others on hot days. His first harvest is expected around October.

Bishop plans to grow a few crops throughout the year but may end up sitting out the hottest part of the summer season.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how this works,” he said. Once he transplants his nursery seedlings to his field in Alpine, he dreams of adding an apiary. He believes that honey produced from hemp nectar will be a premium product.

Much of his plans center around personal, rather than commercial use, until he figures out where he can scale up. Yet his “garden” is still subject to stringent regulation. Anyone who wants to get involved in Texas hemp, from farmers to processors and resellers, must pass a background check and submit to randomized inspection of their business or fields. There are several licenses and permits required, including for anyone who wishes to transport hemp in any form.

The licensing process was not particularly prohibitive at the scale Kevin is working on, he noted. It only cost $100 per license or permit and added up to just a few hundred dollars in such fees so far. Testing the plants for THC content will create additional expenses. Two weeks before harvest, plants must be tested by state-approved labs to guarantee THC content is at or below the legal limit. This is the first year of the hemp program in Texas, and TDA will likely receive lots of feedback on what works and doesn’t. Next year may see some changes with the many guidelines governing this new industry.

Bishop is excited about the possibilities despite the intense level of scrutiny involved. “If I could help friends with Parkinson’s and Lyme’s disease and make building materials in the process, it would be a dream come true. I think this is going to work. I know what not to do,” he said. To find out more about the state hemp program, visit www.texasagriculture.gov.

– by Shawna Graves