Which seed varieties grow well in different parts of Kansas? How much water is needed? Where can farmers access certified seed? When the 2018 Farm Bill opened the door to growing industrial hemp—plants that contain less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC—it also released the flood gates on questions about how to grow the once-maligned plant. Industrial hemp is often grown for its fiber, seeds and oil, and it contains low levels of THC, the psychoactive that produces a “high.”
The 2019 Farm Journal Cannabis in U.S. Agriculture Study revealed farmers’ interest in growing industrial hemp is high, with 83% saying they think farmers should be involved in growing industrial hemp and 48% reporting they’re personally interested in growing cannabis for seed, fiber, oils or medicinal use.
But with great hemp power comes great hemp responsibility, and Kansas State Research and Extension agents say their call to action is urgent, based on the high volume of questions they’re already fielding, according to a press release.
Like super heroes on the industrial hemp battle front, scientists including Jason Griffin, director of the John C. Pair Horticulture Center in Haysville, will examine the growing process as well as the business opportunities for farmers. They’ll also investigate where farmers can take their crops for processing, how to and where to obtain crop insurance and how to handle crops that go “hot”—meaning the THC level is above the legal limit.
“Because we are at the very beginning of hemp cultivation in Kansas, there are far more questions than answers,” Griffin says. “The most common questions I am getting at this point are from people just thinking about whether or not they should add hemp to their crop rotation. Should I grow hemp? Can I grow hemp? Where would I get seed? Who is going to buy my hemp?”
His advice on hemp is simple.
1. Do your homework.
2. Understand this is a crop just like any other crop and failure—for many reasons—is a possibility.
3. Know that there is no insurance for your crop, as of this writing.
4. Make sure you and your business partners have a mutual understanding.
5. Don’t invest more than you can afford to lose.
“Hemp likes a warm summer and, in general, is not a heavy water user like other crops,” Griffin says. “There is no question in my mind that we can grow high-quality hemp in Kansas. The biggest question right now is determining what varieties will grow best for us. Hemp is heavily influenced by environmental conditions, and our environment is very different from the states that have been growing hemp for several years. Determining what varieties will grow well for us and stay under the 0.3% THC requirement will be a focus of our research this summer.”
The plan is to grow eight to 12 varieties in 8-by-12-food plots. While K-State is in the early stages of testing, Griffin says one of the rules of thumb K-State scientists will test is ‘If you can grow good corn, you can grow good hemp.” He adds that environmental stress will be a major factor in that assessment, because stress can cause the plants to go “hot,” and Kansas has a more stressful climate than states like Kentucky or New York where hemp testing has already occurred.
A License to Grow
Rules vary by state, but in Kansas you should expect the following steps:
• State and national criminal background check
• Submission of maps where hemp will be grown from certified seed
Growers will also be required to submit a research proposal, commit to continuous oversight of the crop, and promise to keep unlicensed people from areas where the crops are grown. Check out the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s page on the Industrial Hemp Research Program for updates.
Griffin’s advice, regardless of where you live: First, read and understand your state’s Department of Agriculture rules and regulations on industrial hemp. Second, attend your state’s land grant institution’s hemp field day and ask lots of questions. If your state doesn’t have one, then visit a neighboring state.
“These institutions offer unbiased, research-based information,” Griffin says. “Some for-profit entities may offer training, but their top priority is cashing your check.”
Third, he says, before you put a seed in the ground you should know who is going to buy your crop. Growing a beautiful crop is pointless if you can’t sell it.
“As for stigma, you will still get funny looks and a few laughs, but the joke is on them. Those of us who are adults in the room recognize industrial hemp has arrived and offers farmers another crop to add to their rotation.”
Read more about cannabis in U.S. agriculture here: