LANGDON, N.D. – Industrial hemp, under limited terms, is finally a reality in North Dakota.
As a result of last year’s farm bill, an amendment allowed universities and state ag departments to begin cultivating industrial hemp for limited purposes.
North Dakota State University’s Langdon Research Extension Center started variety trials of industrial hemp this summer and is now beginning to harvest its crop.
“It’s very exciting for us to be able to start variety trials,” said Bryan Hanson, agronomist at NDSU LREC, who headed up the industrial hemp trials.
LREC is the only center in the state currently conducting industrial hemp trials, but other centers will probably follow in the future, according to Burton Johnson, NDSU professor in the Department of Plant Sciences.
NDSU was given permission by the Drug Enforcement Agency to start hemp variety trials several years ago but it was not feasible at that time.
“The DEA wanted us to have a security fence and lights and all kinds of expensive equipment. That just wasn’t feasible,” Johnson said. In fact, the state returned monies from the N.D. Agricultural Products Utilization Commission because of an inability to utilize the funds.
North Dakota is currently one of 15 states that have statutes establishing commercial industrial hemp programs in the U.S., according to farm bill testimony.
During this summer’s field variety trials, Hanson said researchers planted six Canadian varieties, five French varieties and one Australian variety.
Canadian varieties were planted on May 27, and all varieties were fertilized the same way LREC fertilizes for wheat, he added. The Canadian varieties were: CFX-1, CFX-2, CRS-1, Canda, Finola and Alyssa.
“The Canadian varieties look really good,” Hanson said. “But we did have issues with emergence.”
They began harvesting the varieties the third week in August but do not know the results of the data yet.
But Johnson said they can harvest hemp for seed yield and biomass fiber yield or it can be harvested for both.
“Some of these varieties reached eight feet tall, taller than the corn at Langdon,” Johnson said. “The taller varieties were 1.8-2.5 meters in height nine weeks after planting (around July 16).
Hanson said different varieties are meant to be shorter and thus, can be easier to harvest. He is working with an agronomist in Canada on the best ways to grow and harvest industrial hemp.
One of the agronomic issues LREC is evaluating is weed control. Currently in Canada, there is only one weed control herbicide labeled for industrial hemp.
“When farmers can plant industrial hemp in North Dakota, it will probably be a certified Canadian variety,” Johnson said.
In Canada, which is only a short distance away from LREC, producers can only grow certified industrial hemp varieties and the varieties LREC grew this summer are some of the best-known and grown Canadian certified varieties.
Even with the farm bill amendment, it was not an easy road to begin industrial hemp trials, according to Johnson.
For one thing, the paperwork with the DEA was significant just to acquire the seed.
“It took mounds of paperwork, and a lot of work was put in by a lot of people in North Dakota,” he said.
LREC expected to start trials last year, so they fertilized the grounds and it has been fallow ever since, Hanson said.
LREC received a lot of information about industrial hemp from David Williams, agronomist at the University of Kentucky. Williams said Kentucky is further along than any other state in the union with growing, processing and finding uses for industrial hemp.
Even after the farm bill amendment, the DEA blocked seed coming from Italy to Kentucky last year. In fact, Kentucky had to sue the DEA for the rights to have seed under the farm bill, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
Williams said the Kentucky Department of Agriculture has contracted with 121 participants, including about 13 farmers, to plant and process hundreds of acres of industrial hemp on local farms.
“It grows very well here but there are some varieties that are better suited to our climate in Kentucky than other varieties,” he said.
Kentucky is looking at industrial hemp varieties for the grain for seed and the biomass, and are getting yields about 1,000 pounds of biomass per acre, according to the Kentucky Department of Ag.
“Some Canadian varieties are not doing so well here. We are looking more at growing Asian or Australian industrial hemp varieties in this climate,” Williams said.
One of the exciting products they are finding for industrial hemp is medicinal uses for people with epileptic disorders and seizures.
“We have about 25 studies on how to use hemp,” he said, adding their growing season is from early April to August, so they will soon be harvesting their crop from this year.
Currently, more than 30 nations grow industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity, which is sold on the world market, according to testimony about the farm bill amendment last year.