In the summer of 2018, it was apparent the U.S. Congress was going to legalise industrial hemp as a commodity crop in the 2018 Farm Bill, which was eventually signed into law in December that year.
A new commodity crop? This never happens, so as a journalist I was fascinated by the prospects of watching a new industry develop in my home state. And as I surveyed the media landscape, I noticed that there was scant information for farmers about growing industrial hemp.
So, I began seeking out people who could provide that information. Luckily, there was a provision in the 2014 Farm Bill that allowed states to set up research programmes around industrial hemp, and I found farmers in Pennsylvania who had knowledge to share. I spoke to historians, advocates, inventors, scientists, even a guy who was making ukuleles out of hemp. The more I dug, the more I found interesting folks to talk to.
Five months before the 2018 Farm Bill legalised the growing of industrial hemp as a commodity crop in the United States for the first time in nearly 80 years, the Lancaster Farming Industrial Hemp Podcast was born. My goal was to bring high-quality, listenable, and well-reported to farmers and industry folks. It turns out there was quite an appetite for information about hemp from a farming perspective.
The Lancaster Farming newspaper, owned by Steinman Communications, was already a trusted voice in agricultural journalism and often acts as the connective tissue between the close-knit farming communities of Pennsylvania and the northeastern United States. The Industrial Hemp Podcast builds upon that trust and brings the same commitment to its audience while covering the hemp industry.
Growing information sources
Over the last three years, as I’ve talked to people in the industry, my understanding of this crop has grown — especially my understanding of the implications the crop can have on farming practices, supply chains, manufacturing, social justice, community-building, and more.
And as hemp develops as a commodity, I believe we’ll start to see it disrupt many industries, practices, and preconceived notions about farming, raw materials, and what it takes to fuel our economy. While hemp clearly has the potential to disrupt textiles, paper, and logging, it can also transform construction, healthcare, petrochemical plastics, and more.
Part of the reason hemp has captured the public’s imagination is that human beings love a good redemption story.
Hemp had been illegal to grow in the United States for nearly 80 years because of its association with marijuana. But the 2018 Farm Bill changed all that, making hemp a legal commodity crop for farmers. Hemp’s absence from the farming scene for so long left a dearth of quality information for farmers. Years of prohibition and illicit drug culture had created a strange environment for farmers who wanted to grow hemp for fiber, seed, or medicine.
The objective of the podcast was to cut through the stigma and noise to produce a program to address farmers’ concerns about the plant and also to provide them with practical information for use in their own farming practice.
Because of hemp’s versatility as a raw material for manufacturing and rather remarkable ability to sequester carbon, hemp can be a key tool in the battle to mitigate climate change — offering farmers the chance to save the world. Lancaster Farming has been committed to the success of farmers, and now — because of climate change — the stakes are higher. The success of farmers is intrinsically tied to our survival to the success of us all.
As a journalist in this space, I want to tell the stories of these pioneers, to raise awareness of the industry, and hopefully reach people outside of the hemp and ag sectors to let them know what’s happening and what’s possible.
Reaching a new audience
The Lancaster Farming Industrial Hemp Podcast has become a trusted voice in the hemp industry, not just in the traditional coverage area of Lancaster Farming newspaper, but nationally and internationally as well. The show has a growing audience from Pennsylvania to Oregon to Hawaii, with listeners in Europe, Africa, and the South Pacific.
The podcast has also had a positive effect on readership of the newspaper. For example, a circulation promotion that featured Lancaster Farming’s hemp coverage in August of 2020 resulted in 265 new subscriptions to the print edition of the newspaper.
The podcast has raised national and global awareness of Lancaster Farming, which continues to be a source of trusted agricultural news.