Breaking It Down: Use Cases and Markets for Hemp Flower, Stalk, and Seed
Recent legislative developments have re-opened a world of possibilities when it comes to the cultivation of hemp. With the ability to use each/all components of the plant for different industries and products, whilst simultaneously reducing our environmental impacts, hemp is quickly becoming a sought after commodity. In order to understand how you can integrate hemp and hemp based products into your industry, it is important to understand how and where each element of the plant can be used, and their potential applications.
What is Hemp?
Before we go too far, let’s take a wider view of the hemp plant. In this context we’ll look at hemp as an agricultural crop, to better understand why it is being adopted by farmers the world over.
First and foremost, hemp is a non-psychoactive crop belonging to the cannabis family. Thanks to the recent enactment of the Farm Bill (2018) in the USA, it has finally been distinguished and reclassified from other cannabis family plants, and has now been rendered federally legal for commercial cultivation.
Second, hemp can be cultivated for a number of qualities, including grain or seed, fibers and cannabinoids. It also offers the potential to be grown as a row-crop (such as corn or wheat) or under horticultural conditions (hydroponically). Typically, the method of cultivation depends on the use cases of the plant, whereby row-crops are more commonly used for grain and fiber production, and the controlled conditions of horticulture are better suited to producing cannabinoids and other hemp extracts.
Aside from the resiliency of the hemp plant, it can also be grown in a wide variety of environmental conditions on all continents, giving it far reaching potential to overcome social and economic barriers. As one of the most nutrient rich sources of food available (through the seeds) hemp may also serve in reducing the food deficit in Africa and developing nations, and could serve to close the economic gap between the developed world as it moves to become a primary export.
How Is Hemp Used?
Now that we’ve established the why, let’s take a look at the current applications of hemp and its constituents. Currently there are more than 25,000 reported use cases of hemp and its byproducts, across a huge range of industries, such as:
- Consumer and industrial textiles (stalk)
- Abrasive chemicals (cell fluid)
- Hemp extracts such as cannabinoids, tinctures, oils and distillates (flower)
- Foods such as protein powder and cereal (seeds)
- Cosmetics and personal hygiene (seeds)
Moreover, there is not one primary use case that suits the world. Rather, the industry and use cases of hemp differs with geographical regions. For example, food products represent the largest market for hemp derived products in Canada, where as the industry in China has traditionally been built around textiles and fabrics. These trends are beginning to change however, as the potential of the plant is realized, and hemp extracts become more prominent in health care products. For now, we’ll look at the market as a whole so you can better understand the projected growth of each industry sector.
Hemp Flower and Extracts
By far, the largest market sector is in hemp extracts, accounting for 75% of global hemp cultivation, and almost half of all hemp-based product sales in the US. Hemp extracts (from the flower itself) can be broken down into a number of categories, including distillates and full spectrum oils, as well as isolates such as cannabinoids and terpenes.
From here these oils and distillates can be used in nutraceutical and pharmaceutical products. For example, Sativex is a pharmaceutical product, which uses hemp extracts as a non-invasive way to treat severe epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. Similarly these extracts are used in topical products such as Care By Derma Skin care, and have been shown to have amazing benefits.
Interestingly, there are more than 80 trichomes and cannabinoids found within the hemp flower, each of which has thousands of potential use cases and product integrations. As it stands, however, only 3 have been successfully explored and commercially produced, and some are limited at that- which shows just how much potential the hemp flower has to impact our everyday lives.
Hemp Seed and Grain
The second largest market sector for hemp cultivation is in producing seed and grain (approximately 15% of global cultivation). Typically, hemp seeds are divided into 3 categories:
- Viable seed- used for germination and cultivation of the plant itself.
- Non-viable seed- pressed for oils
- De-hulled seed- used for food production.
When it comes to use cases, non-viable seeds and their oils represent the largest sector of use cases, ranging from:
- Oil based food products such as margarine and salad dressings to
- Industrial use products including car parts, bio-plastics, paints and industrial lubricants, to
- Personal hygiene products such as soaps, shampoo and cosmetics.
This is followed by de-hulled seeds, which are used for protein powders, cereals and grains, such as bird feed. It is important to note here that hemp seeds represent one of the worlds most accessible and most bioavailable sources of plant-based protein, with 20 amino acids- including the 9 essentials that the body can only obtain from dietary sources- as well as dietary fiber, antioxidants and other minerals without any saturated fats, cholesterol or sugars.
Aside from this environmentally sustainable way to reach our dietary needs, hemp seeds (as a food) also stand to have the largest impact on systemic poverty and malnourishment in developing nations.
The remaining 10% (or thereabouts) of global hemp cultivation is for hemp fibers. These plants are grown specifically for their bast fibers, and the plants are typically low in extractable materials and seed production. One of the largest market sectors for hemp fibers is in textiles and fabrics, due largely to their natural resistance to decay, and lower environmental impact thanks to the recyclability of the fiber itself.
Typically hemp fibers can be found in the manufacture of clothing, rope/twine, paper and geotextiles. However it is in industrial applications that hemp fibers are expected to see the most growth, in a market sector expected to grow 30% year on year. By far the largest application of hemp fibers in the U.S. is for automotive applications, including industrial lubricants, bio-composites and bio-plastics, however hemp they are also being used (and will continue to be) used in the development of:
- Green building materials
- Organic and chemical free fabrics
- Animal bedding products and feed for livestock
- Biofuels and industrial textiles
As manufacturing and industrial processing continues to develop it is expected that the use of hemp fibers will also become more innovative, particularly as domestic production is now viable in the US.
As you can see, the hemp plant and its constituents not only offer a more sustainable crop for the agricultural sector, they also represents an opportunity to reduce our environmental impact, whilst simultaneously stimulating innovation across a wide range of industries. With more than 25,000 use cases it is already impacting our lives, however we sit on the precipice of true innovation, as the global hemp market and it’s products continues to expand.
ECS brands is a Colorado-based company delivering true full-spectrum hemp oils, extracts and distillates.
With a focus on whole-body health and a balanced lifestyle, ECS brands are simplifying research and education through its range of hemp based products, targeting the body’s endocannabinoid system to help restore both neural and physical homeostasis.
ECS brands promote entrepreneurship and product integration with a range of wholesale extracts, oils, and distillates. The company also oversees the operations of a number of hemp based brands, including Hemp Fuel, Care By Derma, and Enlighten Hemp, to further drive the adoption of hemp-based products and holistic health.
To learn more about ECS Brands, or to find information specific to our products and services, please visit the ECS Brands website.