With very wet weather, plans to kick off state’s first hemp growing season slow down

photo by: Contributed photo

Water from recent rain floods the land of Rick Gash, one of the state's many farmers who hoped to plant seeds for the first year of legalized hemp growth in Kansas. Gash, who operates the Hemp Development Group with his wife Stacy, said he'll have to wait for the land to dry to start his operation.

This month, many farmers had hoped to make history in the state of Kansas by planting a newly legalized crop for the first time. But high amounts of rain and flooding throughout the state have put those plans on hold a little longer.

“We’re flooded down here,” said Rick Gash, a hemp farmer in rural Butler County.

Gash, who operates the Hemp Development Group with his wife, Stacy, said they had been preparing 80 acres to plant hemp last week, but then the rain came and much of the farmland in eastern Kansas became “waterlogged.”

Some farmers, however, will still get to plant their seeds as planned and kick off the beginning of hemp production in Kansas. While he can’t work on his own farm, Gash said he’s focusing on helping six western Kansas farmers who are using the development group to get a start on the crop.

Gash said the development group, which helps new farmers get their hemp operations off the ground, just purchased seeds for planting last week and will likely begin working on the western Kansas farms on Monday.

“What I see happening is, we will take care of the places we can take care of now,” he said. “Then when the areas we can’t take care of become dry enough, we’ll only have a short amount of time, but we’ll be going around the clock getting seed into the ground.”

photo by: Contributed photo

In a recent self-taken photo, Butler County farmer Rick Gash shows himself working his 80 acres of land in preparation of planting seeds to grow hemp.

The rain has been hard to deal with, but the farmers should still be able to grow the crop as planned. But if the excess water does disrupt the season, Gash said he’s working with farmers to amend their state licenses to set up indoor growing operations so they can least harvest some crops this summer.

Gash said the growth period for hemp, from planting to harvest, is about 110 days. He said he still expects to harvest a lot of crops in August and begin processing the product.

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 in 2018 when then-Gov. Jeff Colyer signed new legislation that allows Kansas farmers to begin harvesting hemp this year.

Although the crop is now legal, it can only be farmed through the state’s research program, which requires a state-issued license. Heather Lansdowne, communications director for the Kansas Department of Agriculture, previously told the Journal-World 370 applications were filed for licenses before the March 1 deadline.

Before any of those farmers could even plant seeds for the first growing season of the crop, the Legislature again changed the laws related to the plant. On April 15, Gov. Laura Kelly signed a bill into law creating a commercial hemp program and making changes to the industrial hemp research program.

The new law made some minor changes to the research program, but the biggest change it included was extending the research program’s licensure application time to June 1, allowing more farmers to jump into the new crop.

Gash said he’s happy the timeframe was extended, as several more farmers have reached out to him for help to set up operations.

“It’s definitely opened the door to the possibilities,” he said. “We’ve (the development group) been able to take on more farms in the last week than we anticipated … There are new people coming to the table with applications and we’re entertaining (adding more) as well.”

The law also establishes the commercial hemp program. While the research program requires farmers who apply for a license to plan out what aspects of the crop they will research with their operation, the commercial program removes that as a requirement.

It will be a while before that new program is operational, however, because the agriculture department still needs to work out the rules and regulations for the program.

Lansdowne said the agriculture department believes the rules and regulations for the new program will be approved in a faster fashion because much of the groundwork was established with the research program. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture will also have to consider rules for Kansas’ commercial hemp program and give a final approval before it goes into effect, she said.

“We don’t know how long that is going to be,” Lansdowne said of the UDSA consideration. “There’s an element of it that is out of our hands, but we will do everything we can do to get it done on our end.”

In the meantime, the research program will operate as planned. As of Thursday, 201 licenses have been awarded to Kansas farming operations, Lansdowne said. Additionally, several applications have been approved, but the farmers have yet to pay the necessary fees to officially receive the license. The agriculture department expects many more will apply and receive licenses before the end of the month.

“There’s another little window here,” Lansdowne said. “The total number of people participating is going to continue to change.”

Contact Dylan Lysen

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