Conservation Partner Spotlight: Texas Hemp Coalition

Texan by Nature exists to bring conservation and business together. We believe in a collaborative model that pushes impact boundaries for our natural resources, people, and economic growth. We’re proud to partner with 95+ conservation organizations  innovating new approaches in every corner of our great state. 

In this blog, we sit down with Ilissa Nolan- Executive Director of the Texas Hemp Coalition, and Texan by Nature Advisory Council member – to learn more about the burgeoning hemp industry in the state of Texas, and the exciting ways the Texas Hemp Coalition is cultivating a culture of conservation.

TxN: What is your background, and how did you initially get involved in conservation?

Ilissa: My background is rooted in agriculture- I grew up on a cattle ranch and tree farm in Northeast Texas, and our entire operation really revolved around conservation. Growing up as a family that owns land, we worked hard to protect the native plants, pine trees, and rest of the natural habitat that surrounded us. I got my undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University, majoring in Agricultural Leadership and Development, with a minor in Horticulture. I also have a Master’s degree in Agricultural Communications from Texas Tech University. My upbringing and education are definitely why I’m more involved on the agricultural side of conservation.

TxN: Who is the Texas Hemp Coalition, and what is your mission? Why hemp?

Ilissa: The Texas Hemp Coalition is a 501(c)(6) non-profit organization focused on advocacy, education, and networking in the Texas hemp industry. Our major goal is to develop the infrastructure for the hemp industry in the state; to bring like-minded individuals together, learn the best practices from other states, and make our industry as successful as possible from seed to sale. Our mission is to advocate- both federally, and at the state level- on behalf of our hemp farmers and business owners. We want to create a sustainable system of farming hemp, processing and manufacturing, and selling our end products domestically and internationally.

Hemp is still a pretty new venture in Texas. HB 1325 just passed in April of 2019, making it legal to grow and process hemp in Texas. The state just saw its first legal hemp growing season back in the summer of 2020, and we’re already preparing for our next season this upcoming summer of 2021. It’s a crop that’s getting a lot more popular, and we’re starting to see a lot more farmers use it as a rotational crop to diversify their existing agricultural commodity. Interest in hemp is growing, because farmers are starting to realize that this is a unique opportunity for an additional source of income. Depending on what you’re growing hemp for- whether it be cannabinoids or fibers– the labor input is different, giving farmers more options for implementation. We’re still figuring out in what parts of the state you can successfully grow hemp, what kind of climate best supports the crop, what type of soil it likes, and so on. Hemp is still very much in the research stage here in Texas, so we’re trying to provide farmers with as many educational resources as possible to feel comfortable enough making the investment in hemp, knowing they’ll be able to have a successful crop.

TxN: What does the Texas Hemp Coalition do, and who is your main audience?

Ilissa: The Texas Hemp Coalition strives to make sure that we have the right players working for the entire supply chain so that our industry can thrive. We’re involved with all aspects of the hemp industry supply chain- from seed to sale. We work with everyone, from the people in charge of seed genetics, to our farmers who plant those seeds. We support the samplers that extract plant material from the crops and the laboratories who run tests on those samples to ensure that the THC level of the plant is under the 0.3% legal limit. We collaborate with extractors that harvest the oil from the plant and fiber processors which use a specific machine called a decorticator to separate the tough, woody interior of the hemp plant from the soft, fibrous exterior. We follow the hemp plant through this entire process, all the way to our CBD and holistic health shops that are selling the final product, and even the medical doctors who are prescribing it to their patients.

Hemp is a crop with a lot of byproducts, just like any other agricultural commodity. The Texas Hemp Coalition is trying to find uses for those byproducts. We’re predicting that hemp fibers will be a very popular material in Texas, because of the amount of land it requires, and the seemingly endless possibilities of what you can make with it.

TxN: What distinguishes the Texas Hemp Coalition from other organizations working in the hemp industry?

Ilissa: What distinguishes us is that we’re a professional advocacy and education group. Our goal is to represent all different aspects of the hemp industry, not just one specific entity. Because hemp has so many different byproducts, there are a lot of different avenues in the industry to get involved with. If we chose to only support the farmers, we would be missing out on the entire rest of this industry, and the economic development benefits produced by it. We’d be missing out on the individuals that are extracting the oils and fibers, using them to produce materials like rope, hempcrete, and other environmentally-friendly building materials. Similarly, if we chose to only support the end products, we’d miss out on the entire agricultural end of the supply chain. So conservation-wise, it just makes a lot more sense for us to oversee all aspects of hemp production, as opposed to limiting our organization to the smaller specifics.

The Texas Hemp Coalition aims to act as a sort of “umbrella” for all groups in the hemp industry to come together under. It’s definitely a collaborative effort. We’re representing all aspects of the industry, because we want to further develop the infrastructure of the entire supply chain. We want to be the group that everyone in the hemp industry goes to for advocacy, federal support, and connections with partners and nonprofits such as Texan by Nature. We realize that the hemp industry has a lot of successful people from out of state, but first and foremost we want to support Texans. We want Texan-led hemp businesses to thrive, and we want to connect them with other like-minded Texans so that they can learn from one another.

TxN: How can hemp be integrated into existing agriculture and conservation practices? What are some examples of this?

Ilissa: There are a lot of farmers in Texas who already have established agricultural commodities. Hemp is the perfect commodity crop for these farmers to integrate into their current operation in order to diversify their crops, and to create an additional source of income. Hemp could even be used as a rotational crop to plant in the seasons when farmers aren’t growing their main crops. From a conservation perspective, hemp provides the opportunity for farmers to utilize polyculture planting, which has significant positive environmental impacts on the land and the surrounding ecosystem.

Historically, hemp has been grown in the state of Texas. In fact, Texas used to be a huge hemp-growing region in the United States, and the Texas Hemp Coalition truly believes that we can be that again. When the generational farmers of the state start to learn more about the hemp industry, and become interested in growing hemp themselves, their success in the industry will inspire a lot of people. We’ll start to see new farmers, people who have never produced an agricultural commodity, become interested in starting their own operations and getting involved in the hemp industry. This is exciting, because I feel like agriculture is such an important industry, but much like conservation, it often gets overlooked. Agriculture and conservation go hand-in-hand: We need agriculture to survive, but we also need conservation organizations like Texan by Nature to ensure that we’ll be able to grow our agricultural commodities. Without the healthy land, soil, water, and other natural resources that result from conservation work, the agricultural industry wouldn’t be successful.

Hemp has so many byproducts, that I really believe it’s a crop that’s going to change the way that we live. The fibers of the plant can be turned into clothing and building materials like hemp-based concrete and insulation, and the oils have many medicinal uses, so it’s a really easy crop to integrate no matter what you’re interested in producing. It definitely won’t replace any of our existing agricultural commodities, but it will be a great addition, and massively benefit our society and our economy.

TxN: How can someone get involved with the Texas Hemp Coalition?

Ilissa: We’re planning on opening up membership opportunities soon. Our membership options will include various levels for businesses, farmers, and individuals with an interest in the hemp industry to get involved, and join us in advocating on behalf of this amazing crop. We invite everyone to keep an eye out on our website and social media channels (linked below) for updates on our membership program.

TxN: How has the hemp industry been perceived in the past, and how do you hope it is perceived moving forward?

Ilissa: I’ve been around this industry since 2015, when the hemp bill was brought to the state of Texas. I  was actually one of the few lobbyists that worked to pass HB 1325, making it legal to grow and process hemp in Texas. I can say first-hand that the conversations about hemp back in 2015 are completely different from the conversations we’re having in 2021. A lot has changed, people are way more open-minded to the idea of hemp, and have started to view it as another agricultural commodity with numerous byproducts, just like any other crop out there. What sets hemp apart from other crops, is that people are seeing all of the plant’s benefits, and they’re seeing how many different kinds of people want to get involved in the industry. The stigma surrounding hemp is now so much more positive than it was, and many more individuals are pushing for its success rather than pushing against it.

We are still fighting these battles, as there are still people who only view hemp as connected to its sister plant, cannabis. But hemp isn’t its sister plant, it’s an agricultural commodity with so many benefits to it, and it shouldn’t be overlooked because of what other plants it’s related to. The Texas Hemp Coalition approaches this controversy from a professional advocacy angle. We’re building a legitimate industry- one that’s historically been in Texas- and we’re excited for it to come back. Moving forward, I want people to understand that the hemp industry will benefit Texans by creating new jobs, increasing farmers’ income, and supporting new businesses.

TxN: What is in store for the future for the Texas Hemp Coalition?

Ilissa: Along with planning out the launch of our membership program, we’ve recently started a podcast for industry experts to speak about their experiences with advocacy, education, and networking in the hemp industry. We want the podcast to be a space for us to get a little bit more specific, diving a little deeper into certain aspects of the hemp industry, and learning from the people who are pioneering in their unique field. We’re also on Clubhouse, and plan on holding conversations on the Texas hemp industry bi-monthly on Tuesdays at 6pm CST- follow us on social media for more information. 

The Texas Hemp Coalition is also hoping to organize an annual meeting where we can bring all of the leaders in the hemp industry together under the same roof, forming connections and sparking new conversations. We want to host a trade show for people to showcase a wide variety of hemp-based products that they’ve created, providing evidence of the countless byproducts of the crop. Our annual meeting will allow entrepreneurs in the hemp industry to network and connect with legitimate industry leaders who can help them to develop their business. Our goal for the future is to grow into the premier nonprofit for the hemp industry in the state of Texas, and continue to be the group that legislators, industry professionals, and anyone else with an interest in hemp can reach out to for guidance.

TxN: What is your favorite part about what you do?

Ilissa: I love promoting the agriculture industry. It’s my background and my passion, so I’m really proud to be able to represent the industry that I grew up in. It’s not just the agriculture industry though, my job allows me to represent an entirely new agricultural commodity, and it’s so exciting to be a pioneer in this new field, to help build it. I can’t wait to look back 20 or 30 years down the road when hemp has been established as a legitimate and professional industry that people take seriously, and think “I did that, I had a part in that.” I truly think hemp will change the world, and it’s exciting, it’s an honor to be a part of it.

TxN: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Ilissa: We look forward to partnering with Texan by Nature to see what the Texas Hemp Coalition can do for conservation. We truly believe that hemp and conservation go hand-in-hand, and that we can work together to promote a universal standard of conservation practices within the hemp industry.

Learn more about the Texas Hemp Coalition on their website and follow along on their social media channels for regular updates – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.