PRATT — Growing industrial hemp is a growing opportunity across the state. With low grain prices for other crops, farmers are looking for one to help make their operation profitable.
On May 22, more than 120 farmers and business people from across Kansas, Colorado and Oklahoma attended an industrial hemp conference at the Pratt County Fairgrounds. Speakers at the daylong event covered a wide range of hemp-related topics and provided a lot of information in the developing market.
Jason Griffin, director of the Pair Horticulture Center in Haysville that is the Kansas State University Lead Hemp Research Center, shared management practices for planting, growing and harvesting industrial hemp. He said hemp will grow well in Kansas, including during the summer months.
Since this is a newly developing industry, there’s a learning curve. There are incredible differences in hemp varieties and Griffin is anxious to see how these varieties do in Kansas.
Kansas State University is in its first year of growing hemp and reports are expected in December. It has four hemp locations across Kansas, so research is being done on a range of soil types. From 12 to 17 varieties are being considered for study and all have to produce a crop that has less than 0.3 percent THC, a crystalline compound that is the main active ingredient of cannabis. If the THC level gets higher than 0.3 percent, the crop has to be destroyed, Griffin said.
On the other hand, high levels CBD, another cannabis, is desired for production.
Some important factors for growing hemp are weed-free soil, dense growth to shade out weeds, good moisture at the start of plant life. Too much nitrogen results in poor fiber quality. Good retting, a process that separates the fiber material in hemp, is also necessary.
Several states are growing hemp, including Vermont, New Hampshire and especially Kentucky, which has gravitated toward hemp as an alternative to tobacco, said Griffin, who added that environment is a key factor in growing hemp.
Lane Bates, of Slapout, Okla., said growing hemp has just become legal in his state and he intends to grow a crop in a greenhouse facility. He said he would be growing the plant for the CBD oil it produces. He is starting with just a greenhouse crop because it will take a few years to figure out the industry.
Gary Barker, of Pratt, said with grain market prices at 1970s levels he wanted to find out more about hemp because of the rules and regulations involved. Harvesting and storing the crop are also important issues.
Barker said he is leery because he doesn't t know how big the hemp market would be. With low commodity prices, this could become a popular additional crop for farmers and that could lead to price issues.
“This could blow up big. It could flood the market,” Barker said.
Barry Grissom, former U.S. attorney for Kansas and senior vice president of Electrum Partners, which specializes in the hemp industry and medical use for cannabis and ancillary business, spoke about hemp's potential.
“I think this will revolutionize agriculture in America,” Grissom said. “I hope we get together in four years and talk about our (hemp) successes.”
Sen. Mary Jo Taylor said much needs to be learned about what can be done with hemp. It is adaptive and a renewable resource.
“We’re all still in the learning process,” Taylor said. “I see a lot of farmers excited about it. This is exciting.”