As the demand for hemp increases, researchers are exploring the possibility of using hemp leaf byproducts to feed livestock. Farmers remove a significant number of leaves when processing the raw hemp plant for CBD oil, and this hemp biomass byproduct might provide a nutritional alternative to alfalfa and other traditional forms of animal feed.
The Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved the use of hemp for livestock feed, and the United States Department of Agriculture currently the United States Department of Agriculture currently prohibits meat products processed from animals fed hemp. At the same time, the USDA is preparing for potential changes in hemp cultivation policies and agricultural practices by funding university research projects that are analyzing hemp feed’s impact on livestock.
Oregon State University recently received a $300,000 USDA grant to study substituting hemp for alfalfa when feeding lambs. Farmers have traditionally used alfalfa as a main source of feed; hemp is similar to alfalfa in appearance, chemical composition, and protein levels. Hemp is also rich in fiber and minerals. OSU researchers are examining cannabinoid absorption, animal growth and health and hope to replicate a model for feeding biomass to cattle.
Using hemp spent biomass promotes sustainability in the cannabis industry, as no part of the plant goes unused. Processing typically creates a significant amount of leaf waste with little value, unless used for specific purposes such as animal feed. OSU Associate Professor Massimo Bionaz explained, “here in Oregon, the majority of hemp is cultivated for CBD extraction with a tremendous amount of post-extraction biomass that has not, at the moment, any market, and it is a nuisance for the hemp industry.” Using hemp biomass as feed offers farmers a way to avoid extra time, labor and expenses associated with leaf waste management. It also potentially creates an additional source of income or a reduction in feed costs for farmers once hemp feed is FDA approved.
Hemp biomass has many benefits. It is an inexpensive source of nutritional value for livestock, and it promotes sustainability by reducing byproduct waste. Hemp market experts anticipate that the animal feed market is projected to grow to $415 billion by 2023, up from $336 billion in 2017.