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    Hemp in today’s marketplace

    There currently is a keen interest in the growing of hemp, even though growing the plant just became legal one year ago. Dr. Winthrop B. Phippen, professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics, School of Agriculture, Western Illinois University, discussed this new crop during the Chicago Farmers February 10 luncheon meeting.

    “The current hemp industry is new and there is a lot of uncertainty that surrounds hemp production,” said Dr. Phippen “Because it was just legalized a year ago, there is little research and information on it. It is apparent from the 2019 growing season that producers are determined to grow hemp, but they need to create networks.” 

    Dr. Phippen pointed out that hemp was grown in Illinois during World War II for its fiber, the plant’s most valuable product. Hemp is useful for its fiber, grain, and CBD (cannabidiol) oil. Hemp’s oil and seeds are the major interests today. In 2019, there were 970 applications in Illinois; 294 processor applications and 644 grower licenses, according to Dr. Phippen.

    Hemp, like marijuana, is a cannabid plant, but the flower from the marijuana plant is significantly higher in THC, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects, than it is in the hemp flower, Dr. Phippen noted. Hemp is used for the extraction of its CBD (cannabidiol) oils.

    “We do not have data from hemp’s 2019 growing season,” said Dr. Phippen. “There were no research trials and growers are trying to develop a supply chain. What is being grown now is not the same as the hemp that was grown more than 70 years ago for its fiber.”

    He said that growing hemp is more labor intensive than producers originally had expected. Industrial hemp that is grown for its CBD is harvested by hand. The plants are hung to dry in drying sheds or warehouses. The grain of industrial hemp is harvested with a combine. Following the harvest, the hemp must be stored immediately in aeration bins. Industrial hemp fiber is harvested by mower and baler and the bales are stored at 15 percent moisture. Proper storage both seeds and oil are critical to prevent spoilage.

    The professor noted that growers do face challenges:

    • markets or end users are not identified prior to planting
    • protocols are needed for the final products
    • limited availability of seasonal labor
    • experienced workers are not available at planting or harvesting
    • no registered chemicals
    • there is no infrastructure in the state for processing.

     

    Dr. Phippen said there are a lot of uncertainties in the production and processing of the plant, and it is an expensive endeavor. “People have to do their due diligence regarding their budgets,” he said. “We have to wait and see what happens when regulations are in place.”