LEBANON – Hemp production is the hot topic in Indiana agriculture as more farmers explore it as a cash crop. It is going to be the main topic at this week’s Indiana Horticultural Conference and Expo in Indianapolis.
However, Purdue Extension hemp specialist Marguerite Bolt said as far as profitability goes, it is variable.
“Some people make money; some people don’t,” she said. “It’s definitely drawing a ton of interest from the masses, either producers or the general public that are curious about it. Researchers are jumping all over it because there is so much interest.”
Hemp has been making a comeback since 2007 when two North Dakota farmers were granted federal licenses to grow it, the first federal licenses issued in 50 years. More leniency came with the 2014 Farm bill when farmers were allowed to grow hemp for research. Then, the 2018 Agricultural Improvement Act turned all hemp and its derivatives legal.
Bolt said the growth of cannabidiol, or CBD oil, is driving the majority of interest. Hemp producers who were growing hemp for CBD production were making oodles of money per acre. A 2019 Gallup poll found that 14% of Americans are using CBD oil. Last year, the tide turned as the number of producers increased.
“Now there’s such a flood of hemp material that it’s really challenging for a lot of growers to get what they intended as far as the price per pound,” Bolt said. “It’s sort of tanked in the last year, really.”
There are hemp growers in Indiana, Bolt said. Most are growing a variety for CBD oil like a horticultural setting.
“Think like raised beds, plastic, drip irrigation and hand labor,” Bolt said. “But we also have producers that planted hemp for grain production, which goes into different human food products or beauty products, and then we did have producers that grew hemp for fiber. Think like World War II style.”
Hemp is different than marijuana by the amount of the compound called Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC which produces the psychological effects. Bolt said, in Indiana, the THC level of crops must be .03% or less to be legal. To grow hemp in Indiana, farmers must get a license through the state chemist’s office at Purdue University. There are some strict rules that must be followed. Farmers must let the chemist’s office know when the hemp is to be harvested.
“They’re supposed to go out within 15 days of harvest and go collect samples,” Bolt said. “If it does exceed (.03%), then they essentially get a crop destruct order and they have to destroy their crop.”
Also, producers must partner with a research advisor at an institute of higher learning. That’s a state requirement. Bolt said states, like Kentucky, requirements do not include this collaboration. They also have to submit an end-of-season report about the research.
Some farmers growing hemp are secretive about it. There is at least one hemp farm in Boone County, but the owners have declined to be interviewed. Bolt said some producers do not want to be associated with the crop stigma and some are trying to avoid theft.
“We had a lot of growers, specifically CBD growers, who struggled with theft last year,” Bolt said. “To the point where some of them hired security, they had cameras set up, they were working local law enforcement to patrol. It was an issue.”
There is no requirement that hemp is grown in a fenced in, secure area. Thieves may think the crop is marijuana, which is illegal, or they know it’s hemp and are selling it as marijuana, Bolt said.
“Which is against the law,” she said. “You cannot do that.”
Currently, Purdue Extension is researching hemp as a rotation crop, but currently, it is not being grown that way.
The Indiana Horticultural Conference and Expo is Feb. 11-14 at Indianapolis Marriott East, 7202 E. 21st St. To learn more or register, visit the website at www. indianahortconference.org.