This is the second of a two-part series on hemp in Dickinson County. The first part was in Friday’s issue.

Hemp has been grown for thousands of years, or until 1937 in the U.S.

In 1937, the U.S. government linked it with marijuana, a Schedule I drug and banned growing it. While the two cannabis plants are similar, hemp has a low level of THC, the psychoactive drug in marijuana.

The entire plant can be used for as many as 25,000 products. You can eat the seeds and turn the stalks into fiber — paper, fabric and rope — or biodegradable plastics, plywood or insulation.

The Declaration of Independence might have been written on hemp paper and the first U.S. flag made of hemp fabric.

It’s such a useful plant that during World War II the U.S government allowed farmers, with a permit, to grow “Hemp for Victory.” Kansans planted 300,000 acres in hemp during the war, said Jeff Wilkens, hemp farmer since 2019 in rural Abilene.

New Horizon Hemp, owned by Wilkens and Tina Kelly, is among the four operations in Dickinson County to get a license from the state to grow industrial hemp on about 75 acres.

Two in Dickinson County, New Horizon and Homegrown Industries owned by Kelly Wilson and Jordan Adams, also have processor licenses.

“This plant has potential that’s just phenomenal if you sit down and think of all its uses.” Wilkens said. “It’s a game-changer.”

All in the oil

For right now, all the possibilities boil down to one cash crop: CBD oil, cannabidiol or hemp oil, which is now legal to sell in Kansas, as long it has negligible amounts of THC. The hemp is tested in the field by the Kansas Department of Agriculture and as long as it is 0.3, three-tenths of one percent THC, it can be harvested. More than that, and the crop is destroyed.

“Industrial hemp is not marijuana,” said Tony Whitehair, agriculture agent in Dickinson County for K-State extension service.

CBD oil is being credited with all sorts of medical uses — relief of pain, anxiety, arthritis, insomnia — that have not been proven scientifically. There is so much anecdotal evidence, however, that the market is booming.

Wilkens and Kelly are about ready to start processing.

Homegrown Industries has been busy. Its crop matured earlier and have had clients from all over the state, Wilson said.

It offers testing services for farmers who want to know the THC level before the KDA comes; drying and processing; and logistics. Wilson also owns Wilson Transport.

Wilson said they got their seed in the ground at just the right time before the big rains hit in May.

“We beat everyone with getting our crop in,” Wilson said.

Wilkens, on the other hand, lost his first planting and planted a second time July 3. Of his 10 acres, only two survived.

“We don’t have a huge crop, but we have something,” he said. “We’re going to be able to process and be able to further our knowledge as we go down the road.”

New Horizon is about to start processing, a labor-intensive job.

Wilkens and Kelly and the five others on their license will harvest by hand the tops off the female hemp plants, dry them and strip the leaves and flower heads where the oil is.

New Horizon will hang some stalks to dry, strip others of the leaves and flowers to dry on racks, Kelly said, just “doing research” to see what works better.

“Once it’s dried, it will stay as long you keep it in a cool dry place. It’ll stay as long as you want it,” Wilkens said. “When it comes to harvest, the drying is now the most important thing. We have to get it done correctly.”

Processing oil

They will put the dried hemp through an adapted ethanol processer to get the oil.

New Horizon won’t just be processing their own crop.

“We have people reaching out to us about processing,” Wilkens said. “A lot of the farmers in Kansas have very small grows and they’re doing it in greenhouses. One guy has 250 plants.”

Oddly enough, as strict as the Kansas Department of Agriculture has been with growing and harvesting hemp, once it hits the processor, there are no regulations.

“The CBD processing is not regulated so the stuff you buy could have a tiny drop of CBD in it or 50 percent,” said Steve Marsh with the KDA who helped write the initial hemp regulations last year. “Right now there’re no protections for the consumers, no regulations, nothing. You have to be careful when you buy it.

“When they process it, it’s a paste, pure TCH. We have to find a way to destroy it. That’s a very touchy subject, especially for law enforcement,” Marsh said.

Wilkens and Kelly are starting with CBD oil because that’s where the market is, they said. But they’re hoping to get to a fiber crop “as soon as the FDA and USDA get it figured out,” Wilkens said.

Harvesting the stalks presents a whole different set of problems. They are so tough, they’ll burn up regular combines, Marsh said.

“It’s different machinery than what we’re used to,” Whitehair said, and it can cost $1 million or more.

Contact Jean Bowers at reporter2@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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