Industrial Hemp Won’t Save Family Farms but it has A Future In South Dakota
By Lura Roti for South Dakota Farmers Union
Experts on industrial hemp drew a crowd of farmers and ranchers for a panel discussion hosted by South Dakota Farmers Union during the organization’s 106th Convention held in Huron Dec. 16-17.
“Industrial hemp is a crop I do not know a lot about, so I wanted to learn,” explained Kurt Bindenagel, a Frankfort cow/calf producer. “It appears there is a big learning curve, and it is quite labor intensive.”
Bindenagel does not plan on planting industrial hemp in 2022, but that’s not to say he is not considering it for the future. “After this panel discussion, I want to learn more,” he said.
Connecting South Dakota farmers and ranchers with information is the reason South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU) hosted the panel. A few years ago, members of the state’s largest agriculture organization made advocating for the state to legalize the growing of this commodity part of their policy. Since that time, the organization has worked to ensure once industrial hemp was legal to raise, family farmers and ranchers had the information they needed.
“Industrial hemp has been a passion of mine for six years,” explains Oren Lesmeister, SDFU director, Parade rancher and District 28-A legislator. “It’s not going to save the family farm or make you a billionaire, but it can be added to rotations and be planted on marginal acres. It is good for soil health and it provides one more revenue stream for producers.”
Profit potential and weed control motivated panelist and Wessington farmer, BJ McNeil to plant 1,300 acres of industrial hemp in 2021. An organic food processor contacted McNeil and he was able to contract the hemp grain before he planted it. In some fields, he averaged 1,200 pounds per acre.
But this was not easy money. “Planting and growing this crop is simple. Combining was not easy. But the real challenge is when we brought the grain back to the farm,” McNeil said.
He explained that the grain needs to be on air within hours of harvest. Unlike corn, soybeans or other crops, industrial hemp does not mature evenly. Seed on one plant can be at several stages of maturity. Because of this, drying the harvested seed is necessary. It also needs to be done quickly and with low heat, McNeil explained.
“Your hemp cannot get above 130 degrees, or you will damage the oil in the hemp seed,” McNeil said.
In preparation for harvest 2021, McNeil had installed cone bins with rocket dryers.
They did not work.
“We ended up pulling the hemp out of all the cone bins, taking the grain to another farm with the old stirator drying systems and putting it on low heat,” McNeil said.
In preparation for 2022 industrial hemp harvest, McNeil is setting up another low heat stirator drying system.
Learning from a farmer who grew industrial hemp and having the opportunity to ask questions during the panel discussion was valuable, said Frederick farmer, Taylor Sumption.
“Asking questions and learning from the lessons of another farmer is a lot cheaper than learning the lessons yourself,” Sumption said.
Panelist Ken Meyer agrees. Meyer is the president of the South Dakota Hemp Association and owner of A.H. Meyer and Sons, a Winfred honey rendering plant, that began processing hemp for CBD oil in 2021.
“There is strength in numbers and in an emerging industry we need to help each other. If you want to get into raising hemp, make sure you connect yourself with people who have grown it,” Meyer said.
Providing farmers and ranchers with information and guidance is just one part of Meyer’s mission. As the association president, he works with the South Dakota Legislature to streamline the regulatory process. He said legislators are listening.
Among the changes Meyer noted for 2022 – there will no longer be an application deadline. He added that growers should not procrastinate. “It can take up to three months to wrap up the background check process,” Meyer said.
Planning ahead was a theme among the panelists.
McNeil said if a grower is planning to raise industrial hemp, they should make sure they have it sold prior to purchasing seed. “Make sure you have it contracted. Don’t speculate,” he said. “I may expand my acres in 22, but it all depends on the markets.”
The weather also plays an important role. And if it does not cooperate, panelist, Dennie Stratton said although it is not easy to find, there are insurance options for industrial hemp. Stratton is the crop insurance production manager for Farmers Union Insurance. “I had to turn over quite a few rocks, but I did find out that hemp is listed in RMA coverage.”
When it comes to selecting the right seed variety, Derrick Dohmann, Sales and Marketing Manager with Horizon Hemp Seeds, Willow Lake, encouraged growers to select and plant multiple varieties. “This way you know what will grow best on your farm.”
Dohmann added that success of industrial hemp in South Dakota depends on producers asking questions and learning from each other.
“This is the reason we are all sitting here. I am not just here to sell seed. I am here as a resource. If I do not have an answer for you, I will find the answer for you,” Dohmann said.
When discussing the future success of industrial hemp, all the panelists were optimistic. “There are so many uses for this product, and more are discovered all the time. I toured a home in Idaho that except for the windows, it was constructed 100 percent out of industrial hemp and its biproducts,” Lesmeister said. “When it comes to the future of industrial hemp in South Dakota, the sky’s the limit. We are just at the beginning.”
To learn more, read this Nov. 16 article on BJ McNeil. Panelist contact information is listed below.
Oren Lesmeister: [email protected]
Derrick Dohmann: 605-880-1266
Dennie Stratton: [email protected]
Ken Meyer: [email protected]