At $21 a Pound, Roasted Hemp Seeds Look Like a Cash Cow

Hemp seeds have started infiltrating grocery-store shelves across America. They're often sold shelled and in bulk quantities, but some producers have also been packaging them as snack items. Roasted and seasoned, they're fine snacks -- they taste nothing like pot and don't get you high, but they're high in protein (nine grams in three tablespoons) and full of omega essential fatty acids.

But when we saw a bag of Ziggy Marley Hemp Rules -- seeds that are USDA certified organic -- selling for $7.99 for six ounces (before tax), we started considering the potential of hemp seeds as a cash crop.

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According to a feasibility report released by Oregon State University in 1998, hemp fields dedicated to seed production are typically not seeded as heavily as fields dedicated to hemp used for fiber. (Although a single hemp plant can be used for both, the fiber from fully seeded plants is not as strong and therefore not as useful as fiber from plants that are not allowed to fully seed.) The report states that a typical seed yield using the methods outlined in the study would be about 893 pounds per acre.

That document is obviously outdated, but the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance reports that typical seed yields range from 600 to 800 pounds -- and that the largest yield on record "topped 2,000 pounds."

Ignoring the cost of packaging and marketing those seeds, In a best-case scenario of 2,000 pounds per acre, a producer could harvest $42,613 worth of hemp seeds.

But there's clearly potential for variation. An acre that only produces 600 pounds of seeds, for example, would yield about $12,784 worth of hemp seeds.

By way of contrast, in 2013 an acre of corn was expected to gross about $916 (based on the average price of a bushel of corn and the average yield of bushels per acre), and an acre of soybeans was expected to gross about $648 (based on the same metrics).

You can't ignore the cost of packing and marketing, of course, and there's more overhead to be considered. But even so, it's clear there's money to be made in the hemp industry through more than just fiber production.

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