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Industrial Hemp May Grow Legally in Indiana Soon

by Caitlin Yoder

Published: Friday, February 22, 2019

The possibility of farmers growing industrial hemp in Indiana could come into practice within the next few years. As of now, industrial hemp is only allowed to be grown for research purposes. There are some things farmers need to know and consider before making the move to grow this up and coming crop.

Robert D. Waltz, state chemist and seed commissioner, Purdue University, presented information for farmers at the Indiana Horticultural Congress in Indianapolis last Wednesday. According to Waltz, there are things that need to happen before Indiana is prepared to start distributing commercial licenses. It is also important for farmers to understand the legal side of industrial hemp.

Growing, possessing, transporting, collecting or processing hemp without a license from the Office of Indiana State Chemist is illegal, Waltz said. Certified hemp seed will also be required for those licensed to grow the crop.

"In your passion and your wanting to do good things, make sure that you cover yourself legally," Waltz said. "If the state police find this without a license, they can pursue it, even if it is industrial hemp."

During the contracting process, Waltz encouraged farmers to do their research. Waltz said to find a seed dealer and have a contract that is clearly understood. Before receiving seed, clones or raw material, farmers should get Indiana paperwork and background checks. Contractors should be licensed in Indiana for those planning to grow in the state.

Waltz said it is a good idea to obtain clear instruction on the contracted varieties the farmer plans to grow. Other contract guidelines should be known as well, such as acreage or production level and what happens if the amount grown is different. Attending meetings on the topic of hemp is a good place to get some of that information.

According to Waltz, there will be a minimum acreage amount set for commercial growing. The amount will likely be around 10 to 20 acres. Farmers should make sure they have an appropriate amount of seed to grow the minimum amount.

In 2019, Indiana growers are required to have a research proposal. Industrial hemp is not yet approved to be grown commercially in Indiana. Waltz said seed supply for hemp is low, and more research needs to be done before it can be grown commercially.

Out of state vendors have contacted Indiana, Waltz said. Just because they are licensed in a different state does not mean they can sell or grow in Indiana. Waltz warned area farmers to make sure they are working with those licensed in Indiana. There is currently no cross state recognition.

Waltz said the process of contracting for hemp will be similar to that of corn and soybeans.

There has been interest in the use of hemp products in livestock feed, Waltz said. However, there is currently no hemp approved for the use of feed for any animal. There still needs to be research done to prove the safety and nutritional value it might provide. Waltz said it could take a long time and be very costly for those studies to take place.

Wes Holcomb has experience growing hemp in Wisconsin. He believes grain and fiber will be the biggest money makers for hemp. Hemp oil may be a trickier product.

Holcomb experiments and refines the genetics of his plants. He explained that hemp that grows and thrives in dry areas might not do well in wet weather. It is important to select a variety that will grow well in the climate. Holcomb is able to use all different types of soil to see what variety works best in each.

Proper cultivation is essential for growing industrial hemp, according to Holcomb. He explained one farm that did not properly take care of the crop. The seed spread into a hay field and sprouts of the plant were growing. The plants were not properly harvested causing unwanted plants to grow.

Hemp produces organic compounds called terpenes. These terpenes produce a strong smell. According to Holcomb, these compounds help the plant protect itself from pests because of the smell it releases. Deer do not eat hemp, Holcomb said. The plant has a natural defense that helps it prosper.

"I heard somebody in Indiana say that hemp is genetically modified species," he said. "I disagree with that. I think hemp is actually the mother and father of what we have created."

There are many possibilities for industrial hemp products. Holcomb discussed the use of oil, fiber for clothing and other fabrics. He said there are also firefighters using the byproducts to smother fire.

"It gets me kind of emotional how much this plant can do for all of us," Holcomb said.

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