Industrial hemp

TOWANDA, Ill. — Farmers reacted differently to the wet spring this year, taking what actions they could to make it a profitable year. In some cases, that meant changing hybrids, using different tools, changing intended planting or accepting prevent plant monies.

In a year like this, says Ross Albert, a young farmer who previously worked in farm management and now in providing precision farming solutions, having the ability to adjust quickly makes “a huge difference.”

He said there are many tools today that help farmers adjust quickly and improve performance.

“You just have to run the return on investment for them,” he said.

Instead of taking a “woe is me” attitude about this year, it’s time to look at what works, he said to farmers attending a field day hosted by First Mid Ag Services near here. What works one year might not work the next, but it helps to learn to adapt to challenges.

One of the things Albert said he learned working as a farm manager is that having good drainage makes a difference.

“I’m starting farming from the bottom. Every dollar I spend counts,” he said.

Some of his priorities on spending are on limestone, drainage and planting. He has a chance to see some of the latest planting attachments in his new job at Bottom Line Solutions in Morton, which specializes in precision farming.

Ed Tanton, a farmer at the field day, was one of the farmers who adjusted quickly when wet weather totally disrupted his planting plans. This year he had intended to plant all soybeans.

“A good business person cuts expenses” when the profits looks to be lower, he said. Soybeans have lower input costs than corn, so that was the direction he was going.

He never expected he would instead be managing 400 acres of industrial hemp with a share-cropping agreement.

Tanton is a 60-year-old, fifth- generation farmer in Woodford County working towards transitioning to organic farming. This spring, it was too wet to plant at the usual time. As the season rolled into June, he started to consider taking the prevent-plant option.

Then an opportunity came his way to grow industrial hemp, which happens to qualify in the 36-month transitional period towards organic certification, so the idea was enticing.

His new partner from Colorado came with extensive experience in growing the new crop there and is part of research to learn about varieties and management here. Tanton did not jump into the crop without some knowledge either. He had been considering growing hemp this year, so he had done a lot of research.

But the scale wasn’t planned — he was considering planting 1 or 2 acres. His partner used a row crop planter to deposit the tiny seeds onto 400 acres.

“Some has come up. Some hasn’t. The jury is still out whether it will pay,” Tanton said.

In some of the sections where the industrial hemp stand looks weak, Tanton had grown a rye cover crop as part of his plan to transition to organic farming. Instead of using chemicals to kill the rye, he crimped it using a mechanical crimper this year. It had varying degrees of effectiveness.

He is not sure yet if prevent planting and insurance would have been more profitable than taking the risk with a new crop. Part of the risk is a lack of research in Illinois yet, and there are no genetics for this state. The seed is very expensive, but the returns can be high as well.

“It’s a high risk, high rewards crop,” Tanton said.

Sign up for our Daily Headlines newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.