HOWARD COUNTY, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – A new crop could soon become an economic and therapeutic force in Texas.
State senators unanimously approved a bill Wednesday to legalize hemp farming and CDB oil.
The legislation will head to the Governor Greg Abbott’s desk, once lawmakers resolve differences between House and Senate versions.
In Howard County, a four-hour drive west of Fort Worth, Eric Herm is hoping to become one of the first Texas farmers to legally grow the plant in almost a century.
“It’s time. It’s time that hemp is legal for us to grow,” he said.
Saddled with the same stigma as marijuana, hemp can easily be confused with its controversial sibling.
The two look very similar, but lawmakers are emphasizing one major difference. Unlike marijuana, hemp is naturally low in THC, which means consuming it won’t give you a high.
“It’s going to create a billion dollar business,” said Herm.
A fourth generation farmer, Herm believes he can make twice as much profit per acre growing hemp compared to cotton. It could be five to ten times as much, he estimates, if that hemp is being cultivated to make CBD oil.
The plant is resistant to heat and drought, allowing it to survive long Texas summers.
It’s also incredibly versatile.
“You’re talking about the most useful plants that I’ve ever come across on the planet,” said Herm.
Hemp can be used to develop food, clothing, and beauty products. It’s also been used to create alternatives to plastic, concrete, steel and hardwood flooring.
“We are not just looking at the farmers, we want all the industries associated with it to come here to Texas,” said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.
CBS 11 interviewed Miller in Dallas in April at the Earthx Festival’s Hemp Pavilion, where he was touting the potential boost it would bring the state’s economy.
“We want to be on the cutting edge. We want those jobs here in Texas,” said Miller.
Herm has already used his cotton crop to spin off a new textile business, hiring locals to sow pillows and blankets.
“We would love to start grow hemp and make even cooler things with hemp and cotton,” he said.
For a long time, cotton has been the only summer crop many Texas farmers have grown.
“There’s been no other summer crop we can make money off of,” says Herm.
But, it’s been hard on the land.
“Cotton doesn’t put a lot of organic matter into the soil at all,” said Herm.
Hemp, on the other hand, is a soil builder.
“With hemp, it ought to increase the soil percentages astronomically.”
In this deeply conservative region, perspectives have quickly changed.
Just four or five years ago, Herm says no one viewed hemp as viable crop.
“They would of thought you were smoking some of its sister plant already, he said laughing.
When state representatives held a hearing on hemp farming last month, though, people packed the room. Twenty five testified, every single one of them in favor.
“Why not get excited about this? Why not capitalize on it?” asked Herm.
The legislation, consistent with federal law, requires hemp contains a concentration of less than .3% THC.
Farmers would have to get state permit to grow the crop.
An amendment added during debate on the Senate floor would also require retailers selling CBD oil to register with the state and have their products tested by an accredited lab.