LANGDON, N.D. – The last Farm Bill did what many had been looking forward to – the allowance of commercial production of hemp.

About 60 growers turned out for the Hemp Production Field Day at the Langdon Research Extension Center (REC) on July 23 in an effort to learn more about the crop, which before had not been allowed to grow on farmland in the U.S. But, that doesn’t mean growers in North Dakota are starting out at “square one,” according to Randy Mehlhoff, director of the Langdon REC.

The 2014 Farm Bill did allow states to start a pilot program on hemp, based on each state’s decision. There were many restrictions if a state wanted to participate. North Dakota decided to take part in that pilot program, but it was decided that only the Langdon REC would participate. As a result, Langdon REC has been growing hemp research plots since 2015.

“Because of the restriction we had to go through, such as backgrounds checks, approval by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) to get seed across the border from Canada – the restrictions were so high that the North Dakota State University administration only authorized Langdon to do the research,” Mehlhoff said. “So we have been the only REC doing research on hemp in the state and that has been ongoing since 2015.

“This year, several of the other RECs have planted hemp and are now in their first year of hemp research. This is being done in an attempt to provide producers who are interested in this crop with some production practices that will allow them to grow hemp as profitable as possible,” he added.  

Getting licensed

The group at the field day heard from John Mortenson, the North Dakota Department of Agriculture’s hemp specialist and program coordinator, on steps a producer must take to get properly licensed to grow hemp. The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the definition of marijuana, and mandates that any hemp being grown must contain less than 0.3 percent THC. It also removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. The Farm Bill also will allow states to form a framework to build their hemp programs.

There is also a list of things the latest Farm Bill did not allow producers to do in terms of hemp production:

  • Growers will need a license to grow hemp
  • Processors of hemp will still need a license to operate
  • A background check is required before getting a license to growing hemp
  • Fields will still be tested for THC levels

Mortenson went on to explain that even though the 2018 Farm Bill passed, they are still operating under the 2014 Farm Bill.

“USDA knew they would not have regulations in place for this year’s growing season, so they said it would continue to operate under the 2014 Farm Bill’s guidelines,” he said. “Licensing is a lengthy process – this year it has been taking about four weeks from the time we receive the request until you actually receive your license.”

He also noted that during this past legislative session, the Legislature redid the state law so it mirrors the federal law, so the state is ready to go when USDA is ready.

The following must be included in the state plan before USDA gives approval for industrial hemp production in the state:

  • Register all fields and maintain that information for three years
  • Disposal products and violations of state laws
  • Procedure for testing THC levels
  • Procedures for complying with enforcement procedures
  • Must submit information on growers and their fields within 30 days to the USDA
  • Certify that the state has the available resources to manage a hemp program

The complete list of licensing requirements, as well as the various forms needed to apply for an industrial hemp license, are on the North Dakota Department of Agriculture (NDDA) website under the hemp subject line. Eventually, the NDDA is planning on putting together an online application process, which should streamline the procedure when compared to the written forms that currently need to be filled out.

Economics of hemp production

The hemp industry is very young and it is important to have a working knowledge of hemp and what’s going on, according to Dave Ripplinger, an assistant professor in the Agribusiness and Applied Economics Department at NDSU and also an Extension bio-products specialist.

Up until recently, the main focus of hemp use was for grain or fiber, both of which are grown under normal field conditions like other crops. But recently, CBD has given hemp production a new focus. Food and beverage products containing CBD were introduced in the United States in 2017.

“FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is actually very supportive of the future for commercial CBD, but they need science to support it,” Ripplinger said. “So they are aggressively working to get the science that may allow them to deregulate CBD.”

In looking at the hemp markets, Ripplinger had the following comments on each:

Fiber, oil and seed

Though the market is small, it is a proven and growing market. He stressed there needs to be more new products developed using this material and there needs to be further market development. The supply chain needs to be built and proven over time.

CBD

This is also a growing market, and in fact, Ripplinger believes it may be growing too rapidly. There will be an oversupply of CBD this year relative to the size of the market. He expects there will be a few winners and many losers in this market. The losers will be those who have not been involved in production agriculture.  

Ripplinger cautioned that fields of hemp can be grown very easily and destroy the market quickly from high yields and over production. This is already happening when you consider these nationwide figures.

In 2017, about 25,000 acres of hemp were licensed and going into CBD. The following year that increased to about 78,000 acres, and this year it was 300,000 acres.

“So you are increasing that at a three- to four-fold rate and the market is only increasing about 20 percent per year,” he said.

In our Aug. 16 issue, we will go outside and tour the hemp plot trials and learn about the best management practices that have been defined at the Langdon REC.