State receives 370 applications for hemp farming licenses in first year

photo by: The Associated Press

In this Oct. 5, 2013 file photo, a woman stands in a hemp field at a farm in Springfield, Colo. (AP Photo/P. Solomon Banda)

Hundreds of Kansas farms are hoping to be part of a historic first season of legal hemp production in the state this spring, according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

Heather Lansdowne, communications director for the department, said 370 Kansas farms filed applications by the March 1 deadline to participate in the state’s industrial hemp research program.

Hemp, a variety of the cannabis plant and a cousin of marijuana, was once a major commercial crop in the United States, used mainly for making fabric and rope. Although it contains less THC, the chemical in cannabis that causes a high, the plant was criminalized nationwide in 1970 because it is closely related to marijuana.

But the crop was legalized in Kansas again when Gov. Jeff Colyer signed new legislation into law in 2018, which allows Kansas farmers to begin harvesting hemp this year through the research program. Lansdowne previously told the Journal-World the research program aims to give the state an understanding of how hemp farming will work in Kansas before it becomes a commercial crop.

But it’s unlikely that all 370 farms will receive a license to participate in the program, Lansdowne said.

“Only applications that are complete and that meet all regulatory requirements, including the state and national criminal history record checks, will then be forwarded to the advisory board to review the research proposal,” Lansdowne said. “The advisory board will make recommendations to the (department secretary), and all applicants that are conditionally approved will be contacted via email.”

Those selected for the program will have 15 days to pay a license fee. There are several kinds of hemp production licenses, and although licenses for certain types of hemp processing can cost as much as $6,000, the vast majority of applicants fall under the category of standard growers, which requires a $1,000 licensing fee. Lansdowne said the licenses will be awarded once the fees are processed.

“So it could be several weeks even after the applications are all conditionally approved before we know exactly how many licenses are issued,” Lansdowne said.

In December, Lansdowne said 75 Kansas farms pre-applied for the research program, which she said at the time was “a pretty significant number.” But the number of applications skyrocketed after the state finalized the rules and regulations for the program in January.

Rick Gash, a farmer in rural Butler County who applied for a license, said he was surprised by the total amount of applications the state received. He said he thought the total would likely be double the amount of pre-filed applications. Instead, the number grew by almost five times.

“It’s exciting for us to know that many people are interested this early on,” he said.

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Rick and Stacy Gash stand where they plan to plant crops of hemp in the spring on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. The Gashes are one of many farms applying to participate in the state’s research program on the newly legalized crop.

Along with his wife, Stacy, Rick Gash operates Hemp Development Group, which aims to help farmers learn how to navigate the legal aspects of hemp farming and understand the process to start an operation. The Gashes said their goal is to turn Kansas into a commercial hub for hemp production.

“We really want to see Kansas succeed in this,” Stacy Gash said in December. “We want to see the farmers make money … we want to make it easy.”

Although Rick Gash said he’s excited that Kansas farmers are interested in hemp production, he’s worried a large amount of applications may slow down the state’s licensing process, and planting season is fast approaching. The Gashes said they plan to begin planting around May 1 if they are awarded a license.

“There is not much longer, and we have to work our ground and buy our seed. We need to be licensed before we can do that,” Rick Gash said. “It’s going to be a time crunch.”

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