These hemp farmers are cashing in on the cannabis crop

Deborah Hooker and her brother Henry Hooker went from growing oranges to farming cannabis.

The Florida natives plowed down 250-acres of orange trees on their Polk County property, Hook-R Farms, and planted 30-acres of hemp plants, a form of cannabis, instead.

“We didn’t have a choice, everything was completely dead,” Deborah told FOX Business of citrus greening, a tree-killing disease that produces bitter, unsellable fruits destroying orange groves in Florida, Brazil and China. “We couldn’t sell the fruit. As a farmer, you need to find an alternative production. It was a shame the land wasn’t being utilized for its best purpose,” Deborah added.

They teamed up with Alachua County-based Green Earth Cannaceuticals, which has a permit to cultivate and produce certified hemp for research in partnership with Florida A&M University and the University of Florida. Hook-R farm's goal is to produce 200 acres of hemp.

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“At the end of the day, I want to use my experience to help people," cannabis entrepreneur Jessie Johnson told Fox Business.

Florida's agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried estimates the hemp industry will be worth between $10 to $20 billion in the sunshine state alone, and estimates the crop could yield $25,000 per acre, she told FOX Business.

Deborah and Henry are some of many farm owners around the country who have started cultivating hemp ever since congress passed the Farm Bill last year, which allowed states to start legally farming hemp (which cannot contain more than 0.3% of THC, the compound that gets users high). Its sparked demand for CBD (cannabidiol), the non-psychoactive chemical derived from hemp.

Graham Farrar, owner of Glass House Farms, a cannabis grower. (Photo by Paul Wellman)

The total retail value of hemp products in the U.S. in 2017 was $820 million, including food, body products, clothing, building materials and other products, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

And farmers can get between $180 to $300 an acre for hemp crops, Smoke Wallin, CEO of Los Angeles-based cannabis company Vertical Wellness, said.

“Hemp is a great rotational crop. A farmer benefits because of the rotation and the higher price for the hemp, so you are spreading out your labor,” Wallin explained.

Graham Farrar, founder of Glass House Farms in Santa Barbara, a cannabis grower and distributor with half a million acres of cannabis plants, teamed up with a rural water projects developer Cadiz Inc. to start growing hemp in the Mojave Desert north of Joshua Tree National Park this month. The plan is to grow 60 acres of hemp to start, and expand to 9,600 acres to be used for hemp derived CBD oil production.

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"We want our product to be the same in Colorado or California or New York, created in the same way with all the same control," Cynthia Cleveland told FOX Business.

“This is a huge piece of our future,” Farrar said, adding that his cannabis business has done eight figures in sales.

The business of hemp farming, however, is a pricy one to be in. Hemp seeds with low amounts of THC that comply with the federally mandated 0.3% can cost anywhere from $50 cents to as much as $10, and the average number of seeds needed to plant an acre is anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000, the Washington Post reported.