Next steps for Indiana hemp production after Farm Bill legalizes the plant

President Trump legalized industrial hemp farming on Thursday, as part of the 2018 farm bill. But there are still many things that need to be done to prepare for the new crop here in Indiana.

Posted: Dec 21, 2018 6:51 PM
Updated: Dec 21, 2018 6:52 PM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - President Trump legalized industrial hemp farming on Thursday, as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. But there are still many things that need to be done to prepare for the new crop here in Indiana.

“This is the first time we've introduced a new crop in a hundred years,” said Ron Turco, who is head of the department of Agronomy at Purdue and is part of a hemp research team at the university.

With the introduction of industrial hemp comes a long check list of things that need to be done. The first thing that people need to remember is that marijuana is still illegal in Indiana.

“Any hemp grown that is not grown at a registered hemp facility is considered marijuana,” said Turco.

Meaning not everyone can simply grow a garden of their own hemp in their backyard. Anyone who does this, would be in violation of the law.

"They need to get their business plans together, they need to get their contracting together, there's a lot of things that need to happen that they can use this year coming in to get ready," he said.

Turco emphasized that it’s important for growers who are interested in hemp to pick a path for their plant and plan accordingly.

"We're trying to make people understand that they need to have the end in mind,” said Turco. “What are they going to do with the hemp they produce?"

Hemp can be used to make CBD oil, fabric, textiles, plastics, and more. And how you produce the plant for each of these uses varies greatly. It had previously been grown and harvested for millennia because of it’s versatility, until it became illegal in 1937.

"I think that there are many people who have good ideas of how to again make this a useful crop in Indiana,” said Waltz.

Turco and a team of Purdue researchers have been studying industrial hemp since 2015. He said the plant does not have a long shelf life once harvested, making it even more imperative to have a production plan in place before planting.

“You need to have a good business plan in mind if you are entering this market,” said Indiana’s State Chemist, Robert Waltz.

Another big step that needs to be taken is that the Indiana legislature needs to update our state laws to match federal laws before production can start.

CBD oil has been legal in Indiana since March of 2018, but it is still illegal to grow hemp here. Meaning those in Indiana who are in the CBD oil production business have had to go outside state lines to get their hemp. Legalizing hemp in the state would help keep all that business local.

Waltz and Turco agree that they are optimistic that the state legislature will make the appropriate updates and provide rules and regulation for hemp production in the 2019 year.

"There's a lot of interest I think in the legislature to support this," said Waltz.

“The state will give a very defined pathway for how to become a registered hemp production facility and it will be open to anyone who meets the criteria,” said Turco.

Big issue number three is the lack of safe pesticides to protect the plants.

"Because hemp was, up until the Farm Bill being signed, a scheduled one compound, no one was allowed to test any pesticides,” said Janna Beckerman, who is part of Purdue’s hemp research team. “The internet may say that hemp is disease and insect resistant but that is not true.”

She said there are no pesticides that farmers could buy right now to protect their plants that have been proven safe for human health.

“Some people may use other pesticides that work on other plants on their hemp that could be harmful,” she said.

And no pesticides means that anyone who were to plant now would be in danger of losing their crops to insects.

The final issue is that there is not enough seed supply to meet demand right now.

“Seed supply is low and largely already spoken for,” said Waltz.

A concern for some may be the ability to hide illegal marijuana plants among hemp plants. Turco advises that this is not a good idea if you want to produce quality marijuana.

“With marijuana, you want unfertilized female plants, but hemp creates pollen that causes the female plant to produce seeds,” he explained. “This diminishes the value of the marijuana.”

Beckerman said it’s important for people to learn all they can about hemp before getting in this business.

“We need to clearly educate the public regarding hemp,” she said.

There is a long road ahead before we see full scale Hoosier hemp production. Turco emphasized that people should use 2019 as a year to prepare to enter this industry and that we probably won’t see full scale production until the 2020 planting season.

However, those at the frontlines are excited for what the future holds.

"I think it's an absolutely great step forward," said Beckerman.

"I think seeing it reintroduced as a new crop is very exciting," said Waltz.

“We think there is a big opportunity in Indiana,” said Turco. “There’s a lot of people who want to grow hemp.”

Click here to learn more about the hemp research being done at Purdue.

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