SCOTTSBLUFF – The WyoBraska area is still reeling after several major storms wreaked havoc over the past year, while markets for regular exports have been in decline. This has led farmers to look for different, more marketable types of crops.
In a document from FDA.gov, “In December of 2018, the 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law. It removed hemp, defined as cannabis (Cannabis sativa L.) and derivatives of cannabis with extremely low concentrations of the psychoactive compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (no more than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis), from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).”
Dipak Santra, Alternative Crops Breeding Specialist at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff, is researching if industrial hemp could be a good alternative crop for the WyoBraska area.
Most of the research is taking place in partnership with Western Farm Seed with some plants at the PHREC. A greenhouse is ideal for climate, pollination and disease control. This partnership is also ideal as Western Farm Seed is already growing hemp for seed production.
Industrial hemp is part of the cannabis family, which also includes marijuana. The major difference is the level of THC contained within the plant. The legal variety has a very low level of THC and can be used for many different purposes.
Right now, there are two major markets for industrial hemp: CBD and fiber.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is extracted from the female flower. It is primarily used for CBD oil, which has been shown to have a great impact in the medical field.
“There are 100-plus cannabinoids in the plant system,” Santra said. “The scientists are everyday finding new cannabinoids with a new medical use.”
Hemp for CBD use is primarily grown in greenhouses. It can be grown outside as long as there is very little chance of pollination. If the plant is pollenated, it may reduce the level of CBD oil in the plant.
Fiber can be extracted fromhemp to make building materiald, fabrics and a variety of other products.
“I am harvesting the whole biomass,” said Santra. “So if pollination happens, it’ s OK because I’m not going to harvest seed from here and use the genetics.”
Santra believes growing hemp for fiber may be the better options for eastern Nebraska, where it’s more difficult to grow for CBD due to greater chances outside of a greenhouse.
“There’s two primary genetics and that has to be bred differently,” said Santra.
The harvesting process is also different for each plant.
One of the exciting things is the possibility of being able to use other parts of the plant.
Western Farm Seed is selling feminized seeds, PJ Hoehn, President of Western Farm Seed said.
“With our background in agriculture, we take it for granted that when we purchase seed, it’s going to be high quality, it’s going to be certified, and it’s going to be consistent,” Hoehn said.
He hopes to give farmers assurances they are going to get a quality product by getting certified as a company. But this is not the only use for the seeds.
“In relation to the seed, it has a little bit of cannabinoids, Santra said. “It is a high protein, it can be used for different farmers as a human food, or cattle feed.”
Powell is set to become Wyoming’s first hemp processor. The company, GF Harvest, currently produces gluten free oat products and is planning to add food products that are hemp-based.
Giving another benefit to hemp, Santra said, “I heard even industrial hemp root has some specific medical use.”
With so many potential markets for one plant, hemp is a good candidate for an alternative crop. One reason that it might be a good crop is hemp is not a new plant to the area.
According to the Yearbook of the United States Department of Agriculture for 1913, hemp was first grown in Fremont in 1887.
“Another thing that got me really excited was how hemp handled hail. Our hemp crop got hailed twice last year and it thrived” said Hoehn. “To find a hail-resilient crop in Western Nebraska, that’s something to get pretty excited about.”
“What they are talking about in the industry is primarily domestic market,” Santra said. He also believes, if growers can meet the demand for a local market, it would be a huge success.
Steve Wellman, Director at the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, said, “It’s going to need some time, I think, to really have a marketplace for what we’re growing.”
But Santra cautioned farmers who are looking to grow hemp for the season that it is “at their own risk”.
The research for the WyoBraska area available now is still at the preliminary stages. There is very little research studying the long-term viability of the plant.
Another issue is, currently, hemp grown in western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming has to be sent out of state for processing into useful products.
Under the provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill, licensure and permits from the state are required to grow industrial hemp. Other requirements include background checks, locations, testing, and harvesting. A full list of the requirements is available on the Nebraska Department of Agriculture website at nda.nebraska.gov/hemp/. This site also includes the industrial hemp state plan for Nebraska.
“Western Farms did just obtain a cultivator permit and also a permit to process here at the location.” Hoehn said. “We have a processor/handler license as well,” giving them the ability to sell seed. He hopes that, eventually, all of the production can be done locally in the future.
“We want to grow it here, process it here, distill it here, package it here,” Hoehn said. “The whole entire process here.”