INDIANAPOLIS — The Midwest Hemp Council is leading the 2019 hemp growing season through the Indiana Hemp Cooperative’s research trials.
Sixty licensed farmers are growing approximately 3,000 acres of hemp for seed, fiber and CBD through the cooperative.
“From 2014 to 2018, Indiana grew about 24 acres of hemp total, with 12 of those acres coming from one farmer in 2018,” said Justin Swanson, president of Midwest Hemp Council. “In 2019 alone, the state seed commissioner has licensed over 5,300 acres.”
The cooperative will collect data on hemp that will be used to ensure farmers, processors, legislators, policymakers and regulators have accurate information moving forward.
“We tried to pull farmers under this umbrella so that we’d have the ability to support one another and communicate,” said Jamie Campbell-Petty, treasurer of Midwest Hemp Council.
Don Robinson, seed administrator at Office of Indiana State Chemist, said the hemp growing season has been a poor one so far.
“What we are finding across the country is roughly 50% to 70% of proposed hemp grow sites are planted,” he said in a statement. “That fits in line with historic averages in states like Kentucky, where 70% of proposed acres actually are planted.”
On The Farm
Jay Berry, a farmer in Marion, is growing 100 acres of hemp for fiber as part of the Indiana Hemp Cooperative research trials.
“Hemp planting was kind of difficult this year,” he said. “We kept trying to get it planted, and Mother Nature was a nightmare. We finally got the opportunity, but the ground wasn’t perfect. But now I have pretty good stand.
“We literally have only had half an inch of rain since we planted. We went from one extreme to another. I think that’s hurt it a little bit.”
He anticipates to harvest the hemp around mid-September.
Berry was a pioneer in the ethanol industry in 2002. He compared the two commodities to one another.
“There are a lot of similarities between what we’re going through right now with hemp and the ethanol industry,” he said. “Back in the early 2000’s, ethanol was the new thing that would save everybody. Now, it’s hemp.
“There’s a lot of similarities in people jumping in that don’t really understand what’s going on. People may think it’s going to be easy money. But it’s not going to be.”
There are many misconceptions about growing hemp, Berry said.
As a new commodity, there are a lot of unknowns. Markets, prices, agronomic practices and other best management practices still are being determined.
“It could flop,” Berry said. “There’s nothing guaranteed in this. I don’t want to see farmers hear big numbers and get carried away.
“My picture is that, in the next couple of years, there will be a lot of failures and a massive shakeout. There are a lot of hopes and dreams out there. It’s going to be an interesting couple of years.
“I just don’t want to see the farm community invest a lot and grow something that they have nowhere to go with it. You have to be very cautious.”
With low corn and soybean prices, some farmers are looking to grow hemp because they are desperate to make money.
Berry encouraged farmers to proceed with caution and do their homework.
“It’s going to take a couple of years to figure out how to grow it the proper way,” he said. “How to make it better and easier. But it’s exciting. There’s a lot of interest.”
Chris Moorman is chief marketing officer of Heartland Harvest Processing and president and CEO of Saint Gene CBD.
Heartland Harvest Processing processes industrial hemp into value added hemp products including CBD, terpenes, fiber and usable biomass.
“We were approached by a really high quality farm family in Hartford City, Kline Family Farms,” Moorman said. “They were interested in diversifying.
“They’re doing ancient grains, pea protein, a lot of innovative things on small plots of their operation to figure out if they can diversify. They saw hemp as a real opportunity.”
The two families struck a deal. The Klines would grow the first 100 acres, and Moorman and his brother would build a processing plant.
As a pioneer in Indiana’s hemp industry, Moorman encouraged other farmers to be cautious about planting hemp.
“There are a lot of people in Indiana and elsewhere with no real ties to agriculture who are making dangerous promises,” he said. “There are people saying you’ll make $100,000 an acre. Farmers need to be incredibly hesitant.
“Farm balance sheets are not as strong as they were five years ago, I think a lot of farmers will see this as a magic elixir. But, unfortunately, if you get in with the wrong people, you’ll get hosed.”
There is a massive difference between growing a grain crop and hemp, Moorman explained.
“If you’re growing (hemp) for CBD, it’s more like produce,” he said. “You’re talking about subterranean irrigation, plastic, transplanters — it’s not just loading up a corn planter and setting the GPS.
“Farmers should be very careful and use their common sense. If it seems too good to be true, it might be. I want farmers to be very careful.”
Marguerite Bolt was hired this year as Purdue Extension’s first-ever hemp specialist.
From entomology to plant pathology, researchers are studying many aspects of hemp farming at Purdue research farms this year.
This research is in addition to independent farmer research, as well as research at Vincennes University, where Chuck Mansfield is studying nitrogen and seeding rates.
“I try to remind people — to get where we are with corn and soybeans, it took decades,” Bolt said. “And we’re still learning things about corn and soybeans, still figuring out different insects and pathogens.
“Each growing season presents a different set of challenges. Since this crop is so new, we don’t even know all of the challenges we’re going to face as production increases each year.”
While she’s optimistic about the introduction of hemp as a new crop, Bolt emphasized that there’s much to learn about it.
For growers that are interested in getting a license for next year, her biggest recommendation is to find someone to sell the hemp to before even ordering seeds.
“Get a game plan in place, because that will help protect yourself,” she advised. “You can’t predict for loss because of pathogens or weather, but try to minimize your risk in other areas as much as possible.
“We’re here to try and help you with that. Start developing a plan now to prepare. Definitely don’t wait until licenses become available at the end of the year to start.”
Bolt encouraged interested farmers to attend field days in Indiana and around the Midwest. These meetings will be invaluable to new hemp farmers, she said.
“Just being able to talk to growers from this year, growers from other states, is going to be the best way to figure out if it’s the right crop for you,” she said.
“Some people might realize it’s a really exciting new crop, but maybe it’s not the right time to invest in new equipment.
“We want them to approach it like any other crop, where you have a management plan in place. We don’t know how markets will develop as this industry grows.”
To learn more about hemp and upcoming field days, visit www.midwesthempcouncil.com.