SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — For nearly five decades, Ivy League Farms has been growing fruits and vegetables in rural Kankakee County.
The family owned operation added another crop — industrial hemp — in 2019, and Evera Ivy shared the family’s experiences at the recent Illinois Hemp Summit, hosted by the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Here are the details as told by Ivy:
On Getting Started
“Ivy League Farm obtained a three-year industrial hemp license in 2019 when Illinois approved hemp production and the family farm planted its first crop that year while continuing to grow a wide variety of vegetables.
“The first two planting seasons have been educational and experimental. We’re learning the plants, its temperament, ups and downs, how it responds to the environment and the climate. We continue to obtain knowledge and making adjustments based off of what we’re learning.
“We started out growing industrial hemp for fiber on two of our acres. We planted in late June in 2019. That was primarily because of the logistics of obtaining the license and then, once we obtained the license, the hunt was on to obtain seed.
“We continue to obtain knowledge and making adjustments based off of what we’re learning.”— Evera Ivy, Ivy League Farms CEO
“Last year we planted within the first five days of June which was about a week or so later than we would have wanted, but it worked out, at least in the northern part of the state we had really cool temperatures in May and even in mid-May we had a frost.
“We did a combination of direct seeding, broadcast and a drill planting in our first two planting seasons. Hemp for fiber requires dense planting. We planted at about one-eighth of an inch deep in six inch rows at the 70 and 60 pounds per acre rate.”
“State law requires that industrial hemp contain about 0.3% or less of the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol, significantly less than marijuana, which can have 12% to 30% or more of THC.
“The Illinois Department of Agriculture requires random sampling to test THC levels. If you are not among the farmers chosen in a given year for mandatory testing, it is still a good idea to have your plants tested.
“We dehydrate our plants using a basic kitchen gadget dehydrator. We dehydrated the plants down to about 12% moisture and then we found out we didn’t have to dehydrate.
“There is a list of testing providers on IDOA’s website. Some farmers use their own test kits. Again, this is if you are not randomly selected for mandatory testing.
“Some farmers will use their own test kits or you can still choose to send your plants to a testing facility that’s listed on the IDOA website. Check with that particular facility that you choose and find out what their preferred method of the condition of the plants when they receive them and start the test.
“We pull out the entire plant to have it tested from root to tip so the entire plant can be checked for overall plant health, the plant’s DNA makeup, compounds, acid levels and other characteristics. That is not mandatory, but this is something we wanted to do.”
On Future Plans
“We plan to grow industrial hemp for flower this year. The hemp flower is used to produce a variety of cannabidiol products.
“We’re doing that for a couple of reasons this year. One, we’re in the educational phase and one of the best ways to get great lessons is hands-on experience. We’re growing different types of the plant.
“Also, the decortication and processing facilities for fiber is not extremely viable, at least in this part of the state. I know there are some options in a couple other parts of the state and also we’re very excited about some new developments taking shape as it relates to fiber and fiber processing. But at this time it’s not extremely viable and so we want to continue that education and so we’re going to grow flower this year.
“This gives us the opportunity to grow from seedlings. We’ll be able to compare the difference between planting with seeds versus planting seedlings.
“In our first couple of growing seasons, in addition to have challenges with deer for which we did build an electrical-charged fence, we had challenges with weather, with climate, and also we learned that black birds love a scrumptious meal of hemp seeds.
“In addition to those things, we had challenges with weeds. So, planting fiber very densely with seeds that still have to germinate and sprout with the changing weather conditions, we just found that it didn’t provide our plants adequate opportunity to overtake the weeds or outpace the weeds.
“Planting with seedlings which will be planted at roughly the four or five week stage they’ll have the opportunity to outpace the weeds, but also we’ll be planting at six feet apart versus six inches apart so we can get in between and do proper weed maintenance in addition to using either the mulching or the linen or the plastic technique to control weeds. We’re excited about that.
“We’ll be planting with seedlings from feminized seeds. We’ve had the opportunity on more than one occasion to visit more than one facility of the vender where we’re looking to purchase our seedlings.
“Most plants in their young growing season stages are going to be more vulnerable to climate and weather and environmental factors of that nature. They have a better chance of fairing more successfully in comparison to a seed that still have to germinate and sprout.”