SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Interest continues to grow for farmers and processors of industrial hemp.
As of May 20, the Illinois Department of Agriculture has received 612 applications for permits to grow industrial hemp this year, representing 14,800 acres. Of those, 369 have been approved thus far — representing 9,600 acres — since the application process began May 1.
There have been 164 processor permits applied for and 83 approved by IDOA.
Grower and processor applications are available on the IDOA website.
“That processor number has really probably been the most surprising number. That’s fantastic because all along I’ve worried about we know we can grow it but our concern there’s nobody in the state that can process it right now,” said John Sullivan, IDOA director.
“There are some other states where it can be processed, but nobody in Illinois and to see over 160 people apply for a processor license is really a good sign.
“It’s not only from a farmer standpoint — yes, if gives us another crop that we can grow and it diversifies the operation and that’s always a good thing — but if we have folks that are now going to process it in the state, they’re going to create a processing plant that will create jobs and that’s really what we’re all trying to get to. I am really encouraged by those numbers.”
Once the Illinois General Assembly approved the Industrial Hemp Act late last year with created laws to regulate, produce and process hemp in the state, IDOA fast-forwarded the process to create rules and other details so the crop could be produced this growing season. The U.S. farm bill, passed by Congress in December 2018, also included an industrial hemp provision.
“The previous governor and the administration really put hemp on the backburner. They didn’t really want to deal with it and they basically instructed the Department of Ag to not be too aggressive and just kind of do what you have to do. So, it kind of got pushed aside,” Sullivan said.
“So, when I came in Jan. 20, No. 1, I thought it was something that was important to the state to have another viable crop that hopefully is going to provide some diversity to the farmers and producers around the state. Then Gov. Pritzker and his administration thought this would be important, as well, so I had the support of the administration, as well.
“I instructed our staff here and said I want you to do everything that you can so that the rules and regulations can be completed in a timely manner so that if somebody wants to plant hemp in 2019 that they can do it. Our department and the folks in our medicinal marijuana program is where that staff was located and they really stepped up to the plate.”
The IDOA staff developed draft rules and held public hearings to begin the process. There were nearly 350 comments submitted by the public once the proposed rules were published.
“We made changes and there was a very strict schedule on when it all had to be done. We were trying to avoid problems because if you get to one step and if you don’t do it right then you have to go back and start that whole process over and you literally can lose weeks and months. So, every step along the way the folks did a really good job,” Sullivan said.
The final step was to present the final rules to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. The committee is comprised of members of both parties from the House and Senate and it was their charge to review the final rules for approval or to be sent back to IDOA for changes which would have started the process all over again.
“We wanted to make sure we have everything done right. They signed off on it on about the middle of April and that gave us the last two weeks of April to kind of finish up the application process and we wanted it to be available online so that you could fill out the applications online,” Sullivan said.
“We got through the whole IT part of that and ultimately on May 1 the applications were available. We knew there would be a lot of interest, and in the first 24 hours, we had almost 300 applications and 7,093 acres submitted and 74 processor applications received. There were no problems getting onto the website and filling out the application. I didn’t crash on us and you worry about those things.”