SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Illinois farmers may be looking at a new alternative crop but will have a learning curve to determine how best to grow, and market, industrial hemp.
"We're probably going to look at it as another commodity, another opportunity to raise a crop here in western Illinois," said Blake Roderick, executive director of the Pike-Scott Farm Bureau.
Following the rules governing the crop will be key along with developing a market.
"You can grow it, but there has to be a processing plant and the ability to market it once you grow it," Adams County Farm Bureau Manager Shawn Valter said. "Until there's a real market and a processing industry component of that, that's probably where you're going to see a bigger push for people to get involved in growing it."
The Midwest Industrial Hemp Association says the crop -- a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant species that is grown specifically for the industrial uses of its derived product -- has more than 50,000 commercial uses tied to its stalk, seeds, leaves/flowers and roots.
Long controversial because cannabis as a drug and industrial hemp both derive from the same species, hemp is the low THC (less than 0.3 percent by weight) varieties of the plant and has no use or efficacy as a recreational drug.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture recently published proposed rules for the state's Industrial Hemp Act, signed into law in August, which allows individuals or corporations licensed through the department to cultivate and process the crop.
The department is accepting comments during a 45-day first notice public comment period. Written comments on the proposed rules may be mailed to the attention of Pamela Harmon at the Illinois Department of Agriculture, State Fairgrounds, P.O. Box 19281, Springfield, IL 62794-9281.
"Pike-Scott and Illinois Farm Bureau will be making comments on those rules once we get time to really take a look at them," Roderick said. "I'm fairly positive IFB had a lot of input into the rules. I don't think there will be anything in there that we're going to have a lot of heartburn over."
The proposed rules then will be considered by lawmakers at a Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, or JCAR, committee hearing, and once JCAR approves the rules, the department will begin accepting applications for industrial hemp licenses and registrations.
"I think we have some opportunities here in our area to raise hemp. I know before it was not raised, there was quite a bit of hemp grown in western Illinois for the fiber predominantly. I expect we'll have some of it back, but I don't know to what degree," Roderick said.
But farmers may hesitate to grow what will be a brand-new crop.
"Most crops we've grown were crops grown other places in the U.S. and brought in here, some successfully and some not," Adams County Farm Bureau President Rick Edwards said. "This hemp thing is totally new to people across the U.S."
Many farmers aren't willing to venture out of their "comfort zone" and the area's traditional row crops.
"The majority of farmers in Adams County are growing commodity crops, corn and soybeans, have equipment set up to do that and marketing plans in place to do that," Valter said. "To venture off and take acres away from corn and soybeans to grow industrial hemp, I don't see that happening anytime in the near future, especially when you add in government payments and crop insurance."
The Illinois Department of Agriculture's proposed rules for the state's Industrial Hemp Act include:
No person shall cultivate industrial hemp in the state without first receiving an Industrial Hemp Cultivation License from the department.
No person shall process or handle industrial hemp in the state without first receiving a processor/handler registration from the department.
The minimum land area for industrial hemp cultivation shall be a contiguous land area of one quarter of an acre for outdoor cultivation and 500 square feet for indoor cultivation.
An applicant for a license or registration shall be subject to a criminal background check conducted by the Illinois State Police or another state or federal law enforcement agency approved by the department and paid for by the applicant.
Thirty days prior to planting, each licensee shall file a Pre-Planting Report. At least 30 days prior to harvest, each licensee shall file a Harvest Report, and no later than February 1 of each year, each licensee shall submit an Industrial Hemp Cultivator Final Report.
All industrial hemp plants are subject to sampling and testing to verify that the delta-9 THC concentration does not exceed 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.
The application fee for a cultivation license shall be $100 for each noncontiguous land area and each indoor cultivate area. The license fee for each area shall be $1,000.
The application fee for a processor registration shall be $100 for each address, and upon approval of an application, the registration fee for each registered address operated by a processor shall be $1,000.
The complete proposed rules, as published in the Secretary of State's Illinois Register, are available online at CyberDriveIllinois.com/departments/index/register/volume42/register_volume42_issue52.pdf.