WICHITA — Farmers, educators, city leaders and academics came together this week to learn about growing hemp in Kansas.
This first annual Kansas State Industrial Hemp Conference was held Feb. 4 at the Kansas State Research and Extension Center in Wichita.
Researchers from K-State spoke about the difficulty of growing hemp. Cary Rivard, a K-State researcher based at the Olathe Horticulture Center, spoke to the crowd of more than 225 people about the test results of growing 400 hemp plants on 0.45 acres at his center.
“This is one of the fastest-growing plants I’ve ever seen,” Rivard said.
Along with the legal restrictions, Rivard, a first-time grower, found growing hemp to be a tremendous amount of work. He conducted research on four test plots: a black plastic mulch, white plastic mulch and no-till field, as well as a high-tunnel crop. He found the high tunnel crop did the best, as did planting 4 feet apart.
Andrea Harms, a farmer and agronomist from Concordia, attended the conference to learn about how to improve her farm’s methods. Harms and her partners were able to grow hemp on 1 acre of land and produce a CBD tincture. Hardy operates Hardy Ag Consulting and Kanabiss, which received both a grower’s and producer’s license.
“Our big focus this year was to see whether we could do it,” Hardy said. “Our focus is being able to grow it as a crop so it wouldn’t be so labor-intensive on the front side. By growing it and then taking it to the end, there’s more economic benefit for the farmer.”
Other farmers were not as successful with their crop — much of which was because of heavy rains. Of the 190 Kansas growers who were approved for licensure to grow hemp by the Kansas Department of Agriculture, only one-third of them have sold their product as of Jan. 8 of this year. More than 99% of these growers grew their hemp outdoors. However, because of the wind, Rivard found that tunnels produced a higher yield.
“We got about 3½ pounds per plant,” Rivard said. “High Tunnel is a pretty clear winner.”
Rivard said because of the high winds, the CBD hemp grows better in wind tunnels. He hopes to improve his yield and research in 2020. He is also going to switch his no-till field to a different rotation. Because of the heavy drift of pollen from plants and the indigenous varieties, Ravel recommends experimenting with hemp grain and fiber.
“I do think there’s a ton of potential for fiber and grain. Fiber is being forced out of the other states where CBD is already established,” he said. “We already have feral grain growing in this state.”
Mike Erickson of southwest Nebraska has decided to grow fiber hemp. Erickson already grows corn and soy and runs cattle. He was one of several farmers who traveled from neighboring states to watch the presentations where farmers learned one of the best practices to removing aphids was heavy water spraying. Erickson and Kansas farmers also learned that pesticides for hemp crops, although they have been approved in other states, are not yet approved in Kansas.
K-State Research has stations in four counties to try to determine best practices for growing hemp. Tyler Dale, of Mulvane, grew hemp on 2.25 acres last year, but because of the floods he viewed the operation as an experiment.
“We hope for a better year next year,” Dale said. “I learned a lot last year.”
This year, Dale will place his plants in a greenhouse. Dale is one of the 190 farmers who applied to the Kansas Department of Agriculture to grow hemp on 5,700 acres in 2019. Although farmers in 70 Kansas counties were approved to grow the plant, only farmers in 58 counties actually grew it. For 2020’s crop, 168 grower’s licenses were approved.
Roughly 63% of last year’s acreage was harvested. This was because of problems with drift, pests, weeds, lack of labor, and plants exceeding legal THC limits.
“Approximately one-third of the Kansas growers sold their product,” said Brandon Hoch, of KDA.
The top counties for growing some of the 57 varieties of hemp in 2019 were Kiowa, Haskell, Mitchell, Ford, Wabaunsee, Pawnee, Cloud, Barton and Reno counties. Growers ranged in acreage from one to 300.
In January, the state applied to transfer from a research to commercial hemp production licensure. Missouri, Colorado, Iowa and Nebraska, have or are trying to become licensed. Oklahoma, as of now, has no interest in doing so.
“I think if you’re growing hemp organically or not organically it’s going to be difficult,” said K-State epidemiologist Raymond Cloyd. “It’s quite a challenge to deal with these crops.”
Several county representatives came to the conference to understand how they could help growers in their community prosper from this new product.
“I’m just trying to learn options and opportunity for the growers in my area,” said Eli Svaty, the executive director of Seward County Development Corporation. “I’m looking for opportunities for expansion.”
Svaty said about a handful of farmers in his area are growing fiber hemp. Russell City Council member Mathew Driscoll said growing hemp is good for rural economic development.
Before growing hemp, producers need to be licensed and make sure they have a way to sell it. Thirteen of 35 licensed processors in the state processed hemp in 2019. These processors were located in Dickinson, Harvey, Haskell, Johnson, Leavenworth, Reno and Sedgwick counties.
As this crop is new, equipment is hard to come by, and Mechanized Concepts Engineering of Russell hopes to have a hemp harvester out by fall.
“It’s an exciting time to work in a crop which most of us don’t have any experience with,” said Jason Griffin, with the K-State Research and Extension Center. “Our job is data and giving it out to you guys so you can do a better job. Our reports are your reports.”