More stabled American horses could soon be bedding down on a comfortable layer of industrial hemp, as growers eye a raft of uses for their versatile plant.
Florida is among several US states with high hopes for its fledgeling hemp industry.
Industrial hemp is a Cannabis sativa plant which contains less than 0.3% of the psychoactive agent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). With its almost non-existent THC content, it differs markedly from the marijuana plant.
The problem for decades has been that federal law has treated hemp like its far more potent cousin, marijuana.
Hemp was reclassified as an agricultural commodity in the 2018 Federal Farm Bill, opening the door for states to launch regulated hemp industries.
In June 2019, Florida’s hemp legislation was signed into law.
State agriculture commissioner Nicole ‘Nikki’ Fried welcomed the important move.
“The state hemp bill marks a transformation in Florida, and a critical step on the journey to creating a green industrial revolution, strengthening agriculture with an alternative crop of the future and expanding access to safe, quality cannabidiol (CBD) products,” she said.
The US Department of Agriculture then released its Domestic Hemp Production Program, effectively giving the green light to Florida to submit its plans to the USDA to begin regulated and licensed hemp cultivation and production.
The state, which aims to be a leader in US hemp production, is now eyeing the many market opportunities offered by the crop.
Industrial hemp has more than 25,000 potential uses, including environmentally safe farm products, biocomposite industrial materials and medical products.
It is used for hundreds of commercial and industrial applications.
Uses include fiber, grain, and products for human and animal consumption, production of essential oils, and horse and livestock bedding.
Hemp horse bedding has been used in Europe for more than 30 years. However, the product, although currently distributed and used privately in the US, has not yet been sanctioned by major horse and livestock organizations, including professional groups that represent riders and horses in competition.
Benefits ascribed to hemp bedding include comfort and softness; freedom from chemicals; good absorbency, which helps it to trap ammonia and unwanted odors; biodegradability; fast decomposition, low acidity; and little dust.
“We have received numerous inquiries about hemp horse bedding from across the state since the passage of the Florida Hemp law,” said Jacquie Basha, who oversees horse industry relations for the state’s Department of Agriculture’s Division of Marketing and Development.
“Questions come from horse riders, trainers, owners, feed stores, barn managers, professional associations, potential hemp processors, small animal owners and veterinarians.”
There is also interest within the veterinary community in Florida and in other states.
Several major university research and education centers are developing studies and pilot projects to test both the effects of horse hemp bedding and CBD products on domestic animals, including dogs and cats, small pets, horses, cattle and other livestock.
“As home to over 750,000 horses, the Florida equine community is proceeding with caution,” Basha said.
“There is definitely a consensus among interested stakeholders to explore hemp products as a healthier option for horses. Hopefully, this can be accomplished in the near future through a scientific study conducted by a reputable team of research veterinarians.”