Farming industry sees huge opportunities in industrial hemp after bill’s passage
Cheyenne – This session, the Wyoming Legislature considered and passed House Bill 230, Hemp farming, which was sponsored by Rep. Bunky Loucks of Casper.
“In the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress included a provision that, if states wanted, they could allow their farmers to grow hemp by passing legislation to do so through a University or Department of Agriculture,” says Ron Rabou, a farmer and lobbyist from Albin.
However, Rabou also notes that farmers shouldn’t try to purchase hemp seed this year.
“It’s going to take a couple of years to get this program going,” he says.
Growing hemp in Wyoming
Rabou got involved in advocating for hemp production when one of his landlords, Deb Palm Egle and her son Josh approached him.
He says, “Deb and Josh are very knowledgeable and got the bill going, and I came on board with this effort to help lobby and communicate the message about hemp to lawmakers.”
For Rabou, it was important to clearly distinguish hemp as a commodity crop and avoid misinformation about the product.
“I think a lot of people get scared when we bring up the word hemp because they associate it with marijuana,” Rabou says. “They are not the same crop, and a lot of that fear is based on misinformation.”
“The bill came out of the Judiciary Committee on the House side unanimously, and it passed third reading in the House 52-6. We saw widespread support in the House,” he explains.
On the Senate side, however, opposition nearly stalled the bill in committee, until it was re-referred from Senate Judiciary to Senate Transportation.
“The bill passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee without opposition, and then with a couple of amendments, it passed the Senate on third reading 22-6. Sen. Curt Meier was a real champion of the bill for us on the Senate side,” Rabou explains. “Gov. Mead has indicated that he will sign the bill but, as of this date, has not done so yet.”
Thus far, 32 states have passed legislation allowing farmers to grow the crop.
Rabou explains that regulation of hemp started in the 1930s when it was lumped in to the Marijuana Act of 1937.
“Hemp was unrightfully smeared because it got lumped in with marijuana,” he says. “Hemp is a cousin of marijuana, but it has no properties as a drug.”
“People are starting to realize that hemp has extreme value as a commodity, just like corn, wheat and oats,” Rabou adds.
Under the House Bill 230, passed by the Wyoming Legislature at the beginning of March, hemp will still be regulated by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA).
“They delayed the bill so the WDA has until July 1, 2018 to put together the permitting process and rules,” he adds. “The first hemp crops won’t be able to be planted until 2019.”
“It’s going to take WDA a couple of years to get the program going because they have a lot of permitting to go through with the Feds,” continues Rabou. “WDA also has to also establish rules for the program.”
Additionally, facilities to test hemp for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration will also be important. Regulations require THC to be no higher than 0.3 percent in hemp.
Rabou also notes that the time is necessary to make sure all permitting and rules are done correctly.
“We can’t do this half way,” he comments. “This process needs to be 100 percent correct.”
Among the provisions inserted in the bill, Rabou explains that there was cooperation with law enforcement and others to insert language that will provide protection for both law enforcement and producers.
When the process is complete, growers will have to be certified and regulated.
“There will still be a lot of regulation in place for growing hemp,” Rabou says.
The chance to grow hemp in Wyoming is one that Rabou calls a tremendous opportunity.
“Right now, in production agriculture, things are pretty grim,” he says. “Commodities aren’t worth as much, and hemp provides us an opportunity to grow the economy.”
The crop can be grown in all 50 states and requires little water. It is a short-season crop that is prolific and withstands stress well.
“There is no tree or plant species on earth that has the commercial, economic and environmental potential that hemp has,” Rabou continues. “The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world that will not allow its farmers to grow hemp, yet we are the largest consumer and industrial market for hemp products.”
He comments, “Hemp is a huge way for Wyoming farmers to diversify the economy in our state, and it provides other opportunities for business as well.”
With hemp production, Rabou notes that there are opportunities for manufacturing of hemp products to come into the state, as well.
“Between 25,000 and 30,000 products can be made out of hemp,” he says.
Hemp is used for food and as a fiber source.
“As food, hemp is amazing,” Rabou comments. “It has more essential fatty acids than any other food source, and it’s second only to soybeans as a plant protein source. It’s also more digestible than soy.”
The crop is used in products as wide ranging as plastics to car panels and construction materials to clothing. Anything that can be made out of timber or fossil fuels can be made with hemp.
“Because of the biomass it creates, hemp can also be used to support U.S. energy needs because it can be converted into biofuel,” he notes.
Rabou says that research has shown a return of three to 3.5 times above that of soybeans can be made by raising hemp.
For the most economic production, he says that a processing facility within 100 miles of where the crop is grown is necessary, which provides opportunity for other industries in the state, as well.
“My point is, hemp diversifies the economy – for agriculture and for other industries, too,” Rabou says. “New industries for our state can help to alleviate some of the budget crisis that we’re seeing. The enormous potential this crop has for farms, the Wyoming ag industry and for our economy in general makes it a win-win situation.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.