Speaker: "Do your homework" before deciding to grow industrial hemp

University of Illinois Extension educator Phillip Alberti makes a point Friday afternoon at an industrial hemp workshop held at the Pike-Scott Farm Bureau in Pittsfield. The session drew farmers interested in growing the crop used for grain, fiber and cannabidiol, or CBD. | H-W Photo/Deborah Gertz Husar
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jan. 11, 2020 12:01 am

PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- Illinois farmers may not like what they hear when asking Phillip Alberti how much industrial hemp to grow.

"I say grow as much as you're prepared to lose while you're establishing the system, which is what folks don't want to hear," said Alberti, a University of Illinois Extension educator focused on the new crop in the state.

"We have a lot of information that we still need to gather before we can make educated recommendations to our growers," he said. "We kind of have the cart ahead of the horse right now."

But the idea of growing the crop intrigues many farmers, with about 50 turning out Friday afternoon for a workshop held at the Pike-Scott Farm Bureau in Pittsfield. Pike County Economic Development Corp., Farm Bureau and Extension sponsored the session focused on options available in legal hemp production.

Barry farmer Larry Darnell thinks hemp could be a good addition to his small corn and soybean operation. "I want to see what it entails," he said.

Roodhouse farmers Danny and Sue Smith, who raise cattle and hay, wanted more information and answers to some questions.

"How to market it," he said.

"How much it costs. I know it's special seed, and how to get the seed," she said. "There's a lot to learn."

Bill Bodine with Illinois Farm Bureau stressed the importance of doing research before making the decision to plant a crop.

"The take-home message is for folks to do their homework and be prepared if they're interested in growing industrial hemp," said Bill Bodine with Illinois Farm Bureau. "It is a new market that is developing that does include a lot of risk, both agronomic risk and regulatory issues."

Over 20,000 acres of acres in Illinois were licensed in 2019 for growing hemp. The crop can be grown for grain, fiber and cannabidiol, or CBD -- with nearly 99% of Illinois acreage earmarked for CBD -- but growing the crop was a challenge.

"This is much more like a tomato or pepper production right now as we understand it than it is to something like corn and soybeans," Alberti said. "With seeding costs at $1 to $2 per seed, and having 1,000 to 2,000 plants per acre, the math adds up."

Dennison Collard, working with Lance Kendrick, raised a hemp crop this year in Pike County and warned the audience about some of the unforeseen complications.

"There's really no established ways about growing it," Collard said. "It's non-mechanized. Almost everything is (done) by hand."

Their Native Hemp Extract business raised 2,100 viable plants, or about an acre of the crop, in a year challenged with wet weather conditions.

"It was a really trying year," Collard said. "I'm going to continue in 2020; get at least another year."

Producers also must be aware of the regulation involved with hemp.

"You have to have a license to grow industrial hemp. You don't have to have a license to grow corn, soybean and other specialty crops," Bodine said. They need to educate themselves about what the requirements of the license are and how to meet all regulations to stay legal. That's important."