Robin Pruisner with the Iowa Department of Agriculture says there were 729 acres certified this year to grow industrial hemp.
“Six-hundred-and-53 of it was actually planted. So, that was a pretty good percentage of the acres that were planted,” according to Pruisner. “Since then we’ve had a handful of voluntary destructions — things that happened like storm damage or the weeds got ahead of them and they knew they weren’t going to have a crop — so they just ceased operations.”
The hemp has to have a THC level of .3 or lower to be acceptable. “We are actively out testing those crops to give them the green light to harvest them. Or if it is too high in THC then we have to order it to be destroyed,” Pruisner says. Pruisner says in the 48 fields they’ve tested thus far — six had higher than allowed THC levels.
She says some of the hemp crop suffered the same fate as corn when the derecho came through in August. She says one license holder had all of their plants knocked over, but they were able to stake them all back up. Another had the plants blown up and weren’t able to salvage them. She says this has been a test year for those looking for a new type of crop.
“I would say we have quite of mix of what I would call our traditional farmers here in Iowa that are trying it on limited amount of acres,” she says. “And then we have some people who are not involved in agriculture in any way and they are running, I’ll call it a backyard or very small operation, and it’s their first foray into trying to grow a crop.” The growers may pass the test and get the hemp out of the fields — but the U.S. market makes it uncertain that they will find a buyer.
“Marketing is as hard or harder than actually growing it successfully at this point in time,” Pruisner says. “There is still a substantial amount of the 2019 crop that’s sitting in storage and they are still looking for a buyer for it. So, producers here in Iowa have had a hard time finding someone that they could lock in a sale to.”
Pruisner says those who raised the best crop have the best chance of getting it sold. “The processors are really sitting in the catbird seat right now — because they’ve got a lot of people who want to sell. And so, they are very carefully choosing I believe what I would call the highest quality or what best suits their need,” Pruisner says.
Pruisner is pleased with the way this first season has gone after getting everything up and running. “It’s a high risk, potentially high reward crop — and I think people are really trying to find their niche,” Pruisner says. Those who pushed to make industrial hemp growing legal say it can be used in a variety of products from seed oil that goes into beauty products or food products to fiber and textiles.