A new opportunity is on the horizon for Kansas farmers. Growing industrial hemp is gaining more interest across the state. With low grain prices for other crops, farmers are looking for another crop to help make their operation profitable.
Since it is a new crop, producers have many questions about growing and selling hemp. On May 22, more than 120 attended an industrial hemp conference at the Pratt County Fairgrounds. Speakers at the day-long event covered a wide range of hemp related topics and provided a lot of information in the developing market.
Producers from a wide area in Kansas plus producers from Colorado and Oklahoma were on hand to get as much information as possible about the hemp industry.
Jason Griffin, director of the Pair Horticulture Center in Haysville that is the Kansas State University Lead Hemp Research Center, shared management practices for planting, growing and harvesting industrial hemp. He said hemp will grow well in Kansas and there was no question hemp will love Kansas summer.
Since this is a newly developing industry, there’s a learning curve. There are incredible differences in hemp varieties and Griffin is anxious to see how these varieties do in Kansas.
Kansas State University is in their first year of growing hemp and reports are expected in December. They have four hemp locations across Kansas so research is being done on a range of soil types. From 12 to 17 varieties are being considered for study and all have to produce a crop that has less than 0.3 percent THC, a crystalline compound that is the main active ingredient of cannabis. If the THC level gets higher than 0.3 percent, the crop has to be destroyed, Griffin said.
On the other hand, high levels CBD, another cannabis, is desired for production.
Some important factors for growing hemp are weed free soil, dense growth to shade out weeds, good moisture at the start of plant life. Too much nitrogen results in poor fiber quality. Good retting, a process that separates the fiber material in hemp, is also necessary. Much research on retting is ongoing.
There are several good websites on growing hemp in Vermont, New Hampshire and, especially Kentucky that has gravitated towards hemp as an alternative to tobacco, said Griffin who emphasized that environment is a key factor in growing hemp.
Producers from across Kansas and neighbors Colorado and Oklahoma attended the conference. Lane Bates of Slapout, Okla. said growing hemp has just become legal in his state and he intends to grow a crop in a greenhouse facility. He said he would be growing the plant for the CBD oil it produces. He is starting with just a greenhouse crop because it will take a few years to figure out the industry.
Gary Barker of Pratt said with grain market prices at 1970s levels, he wanted to find out more about hemp. There are a lot of rules and regulations involved. Harvesting and storing the crop are also important issues.
Barker said he was leery because he didn’t know how big the hemp market would be. With low commodity prices, this could become a popular additional crop for farmers and that could lead to price issues.  
“This could blow up big. It could flood the market,” Barker said.
Barry Grissom, a lawyer and senior vice president of Electrum Partners that specializes in the hemp industry and medical use for cannabis and ancillary business, shared the history and challenges of marketing in the new hemp market.
He said hemp has been a part of American history and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew it. It can be used to make paper products, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights are both written on hemp, and it can be used to make rope among other products including fiber board, plastics, possibly food (its high in protein), it pulls CO2 out of the air (helps clean the air around Chernobyl) and more. Its also a very environmentally friendly plant because almost every part it usable.
“I think this will revolutionize agriculture in America,” Grissom said. “I hope we get together in four years and talk about our (hemp) successes.”
Right now, getting the rules and regulations in place is needed so producers can get the seed in the ground. Finding out the uses for CDB oil, that is supposed to cure a host of health issues, are anecdotal at best and more research needs to be done on what it actually can or can’t do.
Sen. Mary Jo Taylor said much needs to be learned about what can be done with hemp. It is very adaptive and a renewable resource. But much information is needed about the industry.
“We’re all still in the learning process,” Taylor said. “I see a lot of farmers excited about it. This is exciting.”
 Grissom was appointed the U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas by President Barack Obama and served on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee.
Sponsoring the conference were Pratt Area Chamber of Commerce, America’s SBDC Kansas, Powered  by SBA, Kansas Department of Agriculture, Kansas Department of Commerce, Wichita State University.
in their first year of growing hemp and reports are expected in December. They have four hemp locations across Kansas so research is being done on a range of soil types. From 12 to 17 varieties are being considered for study and all have to produce a crop that has less than 0.3 percent THC, a crystalline compound that is the main active ingredient of cannabis. If the THC level gets higher than 0.3 percent, the crop has to be destroyed, Griffin said.
Some important factors for growing hemp are weed free soil, dense growth to shade out weeds, good moisture at the start of plant life. Too much nitrogen results in poor fiber quality. Good retting, a process that separates the fiber material in hemp, is also necessary. Much research on retting is ongoing.
There are several good websites on growing hemp in Vermont, New Hampshire and, especially Kentucky that has gravitated towards hemp as an alternative to tobacco, said Griffin who emphasized that environment is a key factor in growing hemp.