After its first hemp season, what did Kansas learn?

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.

After one season of hemp production in Kansas, agriculture experts say they are excited about the future of the crop, but acknowledge the difficulties it presented to farmers.

At the Kansas Farmers Union conference hosted at the DoubleTree in Lawrence, Kansas Department of Agriculture employee Dana Ladner said she saw the crop’s recent emergence in Kansas as an opportunity for a new workforce in the state and for entrepreneurs to come up with ways to streamline the crop’s harvesting process.

At a Thursday afternoon lecture, Ladner was joined by Cary Rivard, who conducted hemp research this year through Kansas State University’s Horticulture Research and Extension Center in Olathe, which he directs. He shared some of the difficulties of this year’s season with the audience.

One of the biggest issues is that hemp cannot be harvested if it contains more than .3% THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana that makes people high.

“Now that is a very, very small amount,” Rivard said. “If you go next door to Colorado, in the medical and recreational world, the lowest thing you’re going to see is probably about 10-15% in terms of medical and recreational marijuana. So this hemp that we’re growing right now looks very similar, but has 20-fold less the amount of THC.”

Kansas farmers are currently producing hemp either for its fiber or for CBD, an oil that people extract and use in the health and wellness world. But it’s hard to know how much THC one’s crop will contain, especially since Kansas’ weather is so diverse and hemp farmers only have one season of experience under their belts. Every crop has to be tested by the KDA to check its THC levels.

Ladner said 6% of this season’s crop was “hot,” meaning it contained more than .3% THC, and that the crop had to be destroyed. This is an economic risk for farmers, Rivard said.

While hemp farmers will be offered crop insurance starting in 2020, it won’t apply if their crops test as “hot.”

Other issues Rivard noted were that the harvesting process is physically demanding and the post-harvesting process of trimming and cleaning is extremely time-consuming.

“We had 350 plants, and it about killed us,” Rivard said, noting that he couldn’t imagine how farmers could handle 80 acres of the plant, the most acres permitted with licenses in 2019. In 2020, the limit will be increased to 320 acres per license.

Ladner said she was grateful to K-State for helping Kansas conduct hemp research. She also said she hoped that young engineers would get involved and come up with ways to improve the harvesting, trimming and cleaning process.

After Rivard’s presentation, Ladner shared data with the crowd about the number of licenses Kansas distributed. In 2019, 342 licenses were distributed, but, of those, 82 licensees voluntarily withdrew.

Originally, 5,700 acres were licensed to be planted in 70 counties. Only 2,376 acres were actually planted, and as of Tuesday, only 1,718 acres were harvested. Also as of Tuesday, only one third of Kansas farmers had sold hemp product to a processor.

“With hemp, there was no market, and we knew that, because we are an emerging state,” Ladner said. “And so we really wanted folks to think through the entire process all the way to the end.”

As of Wednesday, 315 license applications have been processed for 2020. Forty percent of the applicants were new this year.

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