Early hemp research already yielding results

A plot of hemp plants at UC Davis in August 2019.

No, it doesn’t suggest it will give a whole new meaning to grass-fed and finished.

While it is currently illegal to use hemp in animal feed or to sell meat from animals raised on hemp, researchers are looking into the benefits of using the byproducts of hemp production as a feed supplement.

Questions about whether the use of hemp for cattle feed can be used safely remain because of concerns about tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) intoxication and the presence of other bioactive cannabinoids. Under the farm bill, industrial hemp must contain a THC level lower than 0.3 percent or less based on a dry weight basis.

In addition to concerns about the THC content, incorporating hemp into animal feed requires several regulatory hurdles. Different portions of the hemp plant need to be approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) to be introduced as a feed ingredient. In 2015 AAFCO asked the hemp industry to submit information for scientific review to establish definitions for animal foods made from the industrial hemp plant. As of April 2019, while private companies and organizations are working on submitting information, hemp and hemp products could not be used in animal feed.

The approval also needs to be obtained from the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), a branch of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that regulates food and drugs given to animals. CVM requires clinical feed trials for each animal and a detailed analysis of the feed ingredient for nutritional composition, protein levels, vitamins, minerals, amino acid composition, as well as fatty acids.

Work on feed ingredient

Kansas State University (K-State) recently received a $200,000 Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to establish concentrations of cannabinoids in livestock after industrial hemp exposure.

“Industrial hemp is typically grown to produce oil, seed, fiber and medicines,” said Michael Kleinhenz, assistant professor of beef production medicine at K-State. “While varieties of hemp may be planted for a single or dual purpose, such as for seed and fiber, byproducts consisting of leaves, fodder and residual plant fibers remain after harvest.

“These byproducts could serve as potential feedstuffs for animals. Because these are predominantly cellulose-containing plant materials, the ideal species for utilizing these feeds are ruminant animals, specifically cattle.”

Kleinhenz and the K-State research team found acidic cannabinoids were readily absorbed from the rumen than other nonacid cannabinoid forms. The next step for the group is to study tissue and milk residue of these compounds.

In addition to these byproducts, researchers are also looking at hemp seed cake, meal and oil. Studies thus far from the benefits of hempseeds show mostly positive results. A study published in November 2019 in the journal Scientific Reports shows a diet of 5 percent hempseed with a limit of 0.2 percent THC to ewes shows the animals more resistant to “adverse climatic conditions such as low temperatures. Finally, the higher milk lactose content makes the derived dairy products more profitable.”

The Hemp Feed Coalition (HFC) and Healthy Oilseeds, a third-generation farm in Carrington, ND, and bonded grain buyer, received a grant from the North Dakota Department of Agriculture in August of this year. The Agricultural Products Utilization Commission (APUC) grant will enable HFC to partner with the lab Eurofins to analyze the use of “hemp seed cake and meal, and analyze hulls, screenings, pulp from post-CBD extraction, sediment and seed oil below human grade for use as animal feed,” according to their press release. Roger Gussiaas, president of Healthy Oilseeds, is enthusiastic about the possibility of increasing the value and return on investment of hemp, stating it will add $100-150 more per acre to the product.

Cattle feed

As a cattle feed, hemp cake, a byproduct of pressing hemp seeds for oil in human consumption, has shown it is high in protein, according to studies done by Dr. Evripidis Kipriotis of the Hellenic Agricultural Organization-Demeter in Greece. Trials of hemp seed cake versus soybean meal show cattle had a similar weight gain, but an improved rumen function due to the hemp cake’s high fiber content.

A study conducted by K-State and published in the journal Forages and Feeds in Aug. 2020 shows a dry matter of the plant between 65-96.6 percent, crude protein at 5.3-24.5 percent, and neutral detergent fiber at 28-80 percent depending on the part of the plant.

Scientists believe the hemp seed is high in fatty acids, such as Omega 3, Omega 6, Omega 9 and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). It is also very high in proteins, which contain every amino acid. American Veterinary Medical Association spokesman Michael San Filippo told Hemp Industry Daily, “Due to the profile of omega-3 fatty acids and proteins within hempseed, its use in forage and silage is under consideration.”

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to using hemp in cattle feed is producer sentiment. According to a 2019 Farm Journal/Drovers survey of farmers and ranchers and their attitudes toward growing industrial hemp, almost half (48 percent) of all respondents are interested in growing it. While 48 percent either agreed or strongly agreed to use it to feed their animals, 58 percent said it was unethical to feed cannabis products if traces of cannabinoids could be found in the meat.

If the AAFCO approves applications for hemp’s use in animal feed ingredients with the FDA, this opens a large end product for the industrial hemp market. Since the cultivation of hemp was approved in the 2018 Farm Bill, a flood of acreage was planted last year without the infrastructure to process the crop. This resulted in an estimated loss of $7.5 billion, according to Cotati, CA-based Delta Separations, a manufacturer of machines to extract hemp oil. — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor

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