The Coronavirus Covid-19 outbreak and the subsequent shutdown, is set to wreak havoc across many sectors, globally and in the UK, for the foreseeable future. Analysis and forecasts released from the Bank of England this morning, through the UK media (7th May 2020), predicts that the UK economy could contract by up to 30% in this coming quarter alone (https://www.ft.com/content/d2ccdb99-9778-4ad3-9a12-eb5df59cc1e8). Coupled with Brexit, UK agriculture is therefore set for extreme economic uncertainty and challenges over the coming months and years. Accordingly, UK agriculture will need to adapt and diversify quickly, to ensure its future survival and prosperity. Therefore, this week’s blog will briefly explore the emerging cannabis industry, where it appears there may well be excellent opportunities for UK agriculture as a whole.
The Emerging Cannabis Industry.
Although cannabis is grown legally in the UK; as is commonly known, the commercial production and farming of cannabis remains difficult here, due to current legislation. However, many other parts of the world have now relaxed their laws around commercial cannabis production, including the US and Canada, where booming cannabis industries have emerged. Indeed, economic predictions suggest that the US and Canada cannabis industries could be worth over 47 billion dollars by 2024 (https://www.healtheuropa.eu/us-canada-cannabis-market/93135/). Therefore, given the future uncertainties facing our sector here in the UK, it is surely imperative that moving forward, UK agriculture as a whole, should be given the opportunity to more easily diversify into and be involved with, this exciting new and emerging global agricultural industry.
Cannabis and the UK
There is not the scope here to set out in detail current UK legislation surrounding cannabis. However, it is legal to produce and sell cannabidiol (CBD) products in the UK, as the psychoactive compound found in cannabis, THC, is that which is a controlled Class B substance. Furthermore, what is perhaps not commonly known, is that according to UN, the UK is already the largest producer and exporter of legal cannabis globally (https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/homegrown-industry). However, this UK cannabis industry is concentrated in the hands of just a few large pharmaceutical companies. Of course, cannabis has for much of recent history been associated with illegal recreational drug use, crime and subcultures in the UK. Therefore, due to this negative focus, many other positive aspects of the cannabis plant have been greatly overlooked. As Farmers Weekly recently reported, “For a single plant, Cannabis sativa offers many assets: its fibres provide extremely resilient materials; its seeds and stem are nutritious; and its leaves contain a medically important extract, called CBD, or cannabidiol (canna-bi-diol).” (https://www.farming.co.uk/news/from-farmer-to-pharma--what-is-the-potential-for-cannabis). Given the many positive aspects associated with farming cannabis and given the future economic challenges faced by UK farmers, it is surely an opportune moment to give farmers the opportunity to diversify into farming cannabis. An area of the cannabis industry which is firmly establishing itself in the UK and could present farmers with an excellent and immediate opportunity, is the market for cannabidiol (CBD).
As the above illustrates, cannabidiol or CBD, has been receiving much positive attention of late due to its medically important potential, with the UK market for CBD products growing markedly over the past few years, with forecasts pointing to a £1 billion sector by 2025. These positive economic predictions have resulted in The Centre for Medical Cannabis (CMC) calling for reform in terms of UK regulation, to more effectively harness the apparent potential of the CDB industry moving forward (https://www.healtheuropa.eu/uk-cbd-sector-have-better-regulation-reform/92180/). Such reform would be crucial to allowing UK agriculture and farming initial opportunities to diversify into the cannabis sector.
Cannabis Farming in the UK
Setting up and running a commercial cannabis farming operation could potentially represent a huge challenge, both economically and intellectually. However, much existing farm infrastructure in the UK could quite easily and for little cost, be converted to large scale commercial cannabis production. Furthermore, given that there are already cannabis enterprises in the UK and that a cannabis industry is now very much established in other parts of the world, such as the US and Canada, UK farmers have much existing knowledge and insight to draw upon, if choosing to diversify into the industry (Eg: https://weatherport.com/guide-to-starting-a-commercial-cannabis-grow-operation/).
Rather than a seemingly stressful and impossible task, diversification into the cannabis industry should represent an excellent and exciting opportunity for UK farmers. Not only in terms of economic reward in the difficult times ahead, post Covid-19, but also, for renewed learning and farming innovation, which would also prove extremely valuable for wider UK agriculture.
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