Here in Iowa, we’re proud of and well-known for our corn and soybean production. While we have a long history of these commodities, another crop may be in our near future; industrial hemp. Hemp is a hot topic in agriculture today, as the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills enacted policy changes for industrial hemp. Many states already allow the cultivation of hemp, and Iowa may soon be joining them.
Cannabis was widely available in the states until the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which limited it to medical and industrial uses. Production ramped up during World War II, when hemp fiber was needed for the war efforts. Hemp was grown for this purpose across the Midwest, including in several counties in Northwest Iowa. World War II ended, and so did the need for producing hemp fiber (“Proceedings of the 30th Annual Integrated Crop Management Conference” 2018). In 1970, the Controlled Substance Act was passed, making hemp completely illegal. Flash forward to the 2014 Farm Bill that allowed research on industrial hemp, while the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. This opened the door for the legal cultivation, possession, and sale of hemp. Iowa is currently in the process of legalizing industrial hemp.
Three steps need to be completed before industrial hemp is legal in Iowa:
1) The USDA must finish the federal rulemaking process, which will hopefully be completed by the end of 2019.
2) The Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship must submit a state plan to the USDA, then the USDA has 60 days to either approve or reject the plan.
3) Senate File 599, also known as the Iowa Hemp Act must be published in the Iowa Administrative Bulletin.
Once these actions are completed, industrial hemp will be legal for production in Iowa, along with some other legal requirements for producers. To grow hemp, producers must first apply for a hemp license. Application requirements include submitting fingerprints for a background check, ensuring the individual has no drug-related offense within the past 10 years. A producer can hold multiple hemp licenses; however, each crop site can be no larger than 40 acres. Pre-harvest requirements include allowing the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship to complete THC testing on the crop (“Hemp Bill: Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship”).
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main ingredient in cannabis and causes psychoactive effects. When producing industrial hemp, the THC level must be .3% or less on a dry weight basis. If the THC level is higher than .3%, it is considered marijuana and must be destroyed at the owner’s expense. High THC, also known as “hot”, can be affected by seed variety and common plant stressors like flooding, drought, heat, cold, and nutrient deficiencies (“Hemp Production – Keeping THC Levels Low”). Although there is limited data on THC levels, a research trial from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services found 10% of their sampled fields were hot
There are more legal requirements on licensing, transportation, and more. For a comprehensive look at legal conditions, visit iowaagriculture.gov/hemp.
While there is limited data on the best growing conditions for hemp, here is some known
information. First, hemp can be grown for grain, seed, fiber, or CBD, and each type is raised differently. Hemp performs best in well-drained soils with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Fertilizer inputs of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash are similar to a high-yielding corn crop. Hemp also grows well when organic matter is higher than 3.5%. Tall varieties of hemp are preferred, as herbicides are not currently labeled for hemp. Planting is often done with a drill, and seeding rates are specific to each variety. Hemp production can be manually intensive depending on the end use; harvesting and drying is often done by hand, so producers may need additional labor (Harper, Collins, Kime, Roth, & Manzo “Industrial Hemp Production” 2019; “Hemp Production”).
The real driver of hemp production is in the numbers. In Kentucky, hemp grain can result in profits of $250 to $300 per acre and hemp fiber at $480 per acre. These profits can vary widely and may not necessarily represent what profits in Iowa would be. Iowa profits will depend on growing conditions, market access, and more (“American Farmers: Forget Soy. Check out Hemp’s Price Per Acre and Help the US win the China Trade War” 2018).
There are many things to consider before planting hemp as markets are limited and there is very little infrastructure. It is best to have a contract when the crop is planted, and that the contractor has money in escrow to ensure payment. With industrial hemp, payment is not made until the CBD has been extracted, however CBD extraction is not legal in Iowa. The CBD extraction, which is done in licensed food processing plants to maintain quality and safety, is about one year behind. This means payment for the hemp crop could be delayed. Additionally, the contractors may have specific production requirements to achieve proper use. Crop insurance is not currently available for hemp as well.
There are many legal and production challenges that will need to be overcome with industrial hemp, however, it’s exciting to see another avenue in agriculture. “The legalization of industrial hemp in Iowa could offer producers the opportunity to diversify their operations outside the traditional corn, beans, and livestock. We will continue to keep tabs on the legal proceedings, industry resources, and overall customer interest as this progresses,” said Scott Stutsman.
We do want to emphasize that industrial hemp is not legal in Iowa yet. While we hope this article opens your eyes to hemp production, do not go out and obtain hemp seed as it is still considered marijuana at this time. We encourage you to stay current on the legal process by following updates from the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship.
“American Farmers: Forget Soy. Check out Hemp’s Price Per Acre and Help the US Win the China Trade War.” New Frontier Data, 12 Aug. 2018, newfrontierdata.com/hemp/american-farmers-forget-soy-check-hemps-price-per-acre-help-us-win-china-trade-war/).
Harper, Jayson K., et al. “Industrial Hemp Production.” Penn State Extension, 23 July 2019, extension.psu.edu/industrial-hemp-production.
“Hemp Bill: Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.” Iowaagriculture.gov, iowaagriculture.gov/hemp.
“Hemp Production.” Purdue Industrial Hemp Project, SUMY DESIGNS, LLC, dev.purduehemp.org/hemp-production/).
“Hemp Production – Keeping THC Levels Low.” NC Cooperative Extension News, catawba.ces.ncsu.edu/2018/11/hemp-production-keeping-thc-levels-low/.
Proceedings of the 30th Annual Integrated Crop Management Conference. Proceedings of the 30th Annual Integrated Crop Management Conference, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, 2018, store.extension.iastate.edu/product/15488.
All pictures credited to Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org