DES MOINES — One of the busiest booths at the Iowa Power Farming Show was for a crop that technically isn’t able to be grown in the state.
A joint effort from the Nebraska Hemp Industry Association and the Iowa Hemp Association at the Jan. 28-30 show here hoped to educate farmers on some of the benefits and challenges of growing industrial hemp.
Farmers were listening, according to Nate Watson, co-owner of Hemp Batch Tracker, who works with the Nebraska Hemp Industry Association.
“It’s been kind of constant,” Watson said. “A lot of people are hearing things about hemp, and people are wondering ‘Can you really make that kind of money on an acre? That’s five times what we are making on corn.’ I’m blown away at how many people are actually kicking this around.”
As of the end of January, the state of Iowa is preparing to submit its hemp proposal to the USDA, which would allow farmers to grow industrial hemp for the 2020 season. Nebraska’s plan for hemp was recently approved by the USDA, and Iowa’s is expected to follow suit, according to the advocates at the show.
With a new crop possibly hitting the market, farmers may be unsure what to do with the hemp once it has been grown. That’s a focus of Jared Lung of the National Hemp Insurance Agency.
“Establishing that market chain in Iowa is really critical right now,” Lung said.
Currently, hemp has no federal crop insurance coverage, but options are still available for growers looking to minimize and mitigate risk, according to Lung.
James Bennet, a hemp grower from Colorado and owner of Yeoman Farmers brand, said he is finding value in the consumable products grown from hemp. Those productions include feedstock and lotions or oils for health and wellness.
“The money is really not in fiber yet, because there’s not a lot of production equipment in the United States, and it hasn’t been developed,” Bennet said.
He said companies such as Mercedes Benz have reached out about potentially setting up hemp fiber market chains, but right now Bennet said it wouldn’t be financially feasible to switch away from CBD products. However, he sees progress being made in the future for fiber products.
“I couldn't even believe how much (Mercedes Benz) wanted,” he said. “But they were dialed in to the point they were very specific to me. They've been buying from China or Canada already. And now they were willing to come to us to buy it.”
There are a couple challenges that farmers might face, according to Watson. One is potential cross pollination, which could turn hemp into what he called “low-grade marijuana” with more than 0.3% THC levels. He also said fighting the stigma of hemp being used for a recreational drug can cause some issues.
“This isn't marijuana, they can't get high off of it,” he said. “There's really a lot of medical opportunities with some of this stuff. There's a lot of, you know, they make plastic out of it. You can make cloth out of it. You can make edible seeds out of it. There’s some education issues and legal issues.”
He also said the crop may challenge farmers as it requires different attention than corn or soybeans, and in many cases might require some specialized machinery.
For producers on the fence about trying out the crop, Bennet said to try and find a personal investment for hemp, in the same way farmers use the corn and soy products they grow in their daily lives.
“Would you ever consider growing something you don’t consume yourself?” Bennet said. “My recommendation is if you want to grow CBD, try it. Then you can speak wholeheartedly about it once you realize the benefits of it.”