Hemp taking one step closer to commercial growth in Kansas

Alice Mannette
Sunnyland workers work with the first batch of industrial hemp dried at a facility in the Newton Industrial Park in 2019. The company opened after the Kansas Legislature legalized the growing of industrial hemp.

On Monday, the state conducted a public hearing for allowing industrial hemp to be grown commercially in Kansas. Last year, the crop was grown for research purposes.

Unless there are substantial objections to the proposed plan, the ruling should go into effect on or near Jan. 1, 2021. This would mean farmers in Kansas can grow commercial industrial hemp starting next year.

It’s a move that is important to a pair of businesses in Newton.

Sunnyland Kansas, a business founded by the Coleman family with corporate offices in Wichita, began operating an industrial hemp drying facility in the Newton Industrial Park. Sunnyland Kansas started operations in early 2019, obtaining some of the first Kansas Department of Agriculture licenses for processing and distribution.The company also obtained a 25,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor facility for distribution and commercial drying of industrial hemp.

The company also has become a seed distributor. This year Sunnyland partnered with IMF, another Newton Company, for the design, construction and production of a new dryer called Lime Rickey — which led to the foundation of a new company called Superior Drying Solutions.

Just under 50 industrial hemp growers utilized Sunnyland Kansas to help with their drying. The large producer’s crops went to Lime Rickey and the smaller farms’ input was dried in the plant’s two smaller dryers — both of which would be considered large by Kansas standards. The smaller dryers dry the cannabinoids at a rate of 500 pounds per hour.

In one month, the large-scale hemp dryer known as Lime Rickey dried more than half a million tons of industrial hemp. The product came from farms in Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Due to the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act, and because the Commercial Industrial Hemp Act passed in Kansas in 2019, the Kansas Department of Agriculture is proposing rules and regulations K.A.R. 4-34-22 through 4-34-30 for growing commercial industrial hemp. These proposed regulations focus on licensing requirements, planting, pre-harvesting, sampling, effective disposal, transportation, violations and research.

Kenneth Titus, who serves as chief counsel to the Kansas Department of Agriculture, led the virtual and in-person meeting. He asked members of the public to state their reservations to this proposal.

Questions regarding new legislation

Rep. Willie Dove, R- Bonner Springs, asked if there could be a mobile unit made available to help the farmer if their THC levels test higher than expected. Currently, if the sampling tests too high for THC, above 0.3%, the entire crop must be destroyed. THC is the primary compound in cannabis that is responsible for creating a high.

“Private testers are allowed to test, but we use our lab as the official test,” Titus said. “We use a mix of plants for the test. If they fail that, they can ask for a retest in 10 days.”

Last year, Kansas farmer Sid Black grew a crop of industrial hemp with his son. He was surprised at how labor intensive the crop was.

Black said that because of the backlog of background checks for laborers, he had a hard time getting workers on a timely basis.

“I would encourage that the legislation would ease up on the background check for field level workers,” Black said.

Hemp economics

In its documentation, the KDA proposed changing hemp from a strictly educational crop to a commercial one. KDA documents said this move will provide significant long-term enhancement to the Kansas economy, as industrial hemp has a wide range of uses. However, because industrial hemp production is new to Kansas, there remains uncertainty with both the market and production elements.

Next year, the state expects 220 applicants to grow industrial hemp in Kansas. Each grower must pay a $100 application fee, $1,200 license fee, $200 registration fee and $225 laboratory testing fee. Each criminal background check costs the grower $47.

In addition to good farming practices, Kansas weather always presents a challenge. Market volatility for both CBD and CBN, as well as hemp used for fiber, remains a significant factor in profitability.

— Chad Frey, of The Newton Kansan, contributed to this report.