A new crop focus on industrial hemp

LINCOLN, Neb. – The year was 1943 with the United States in World War II.

At Eagle Grove, 130 Italian prisoners of war departed from a train and put to work.

The prisoners, as according to reports provided by the Eagle Grove Eagle newspaper, were “under heavy guard” as they arrived from Camp Clark, Mo.

Arriving with them in Army trucks were the “cots, stoves, fuel and much of the required fuel” to serve their every-day needs, while housed in the community’s Greenwood Park.

Their work place was the Eagle Grove hemp plant.

The facility was one of four such plants set up in Iowa at the time to process industrial hemp – cannabis sativa L.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture, hemp, as a seed crop, is “genetically different than marijuana … that it contains less than 1 percent of tetrahydrocannibinol, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

The U.S. government, according to a 1943 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture, called for 60,000 acres of hemp production nationwide, which was later lowered to 44,000 acres “due to a seed shortage.”

The hemp call, and the subsequent building of processing facilities, came in the wake needing to manufacture rope, uniforms and canvases.

Imports of manila fiber were cut off as the war affected overseas production.

Iowans reponded to the government’s call faster than other region. The program was administered by county USDA War Boards and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration.

An estimated 4,000 producers signed up. The Iowa Agricultural Extension Service issued a brochure, “Hemp A War Crop For Iowa.”

Iowa’s and the nation’s hemp production succumbed as the war ended and hemp plants shut their doors.

A new start

Industrial hemp is once again, however, finding its way back into the agricultural picture. Nebraska has become the most recent addition to what is a growing network of affiliates of the Hemp Industries Association, a North American-based organization, and the state’s recent passage of Nebraska Legislative Bill 1001 signed into law on April 2.

The Nebraska measure follows on the heels of the successful passage of an amendment to the 2014 Farm Bill, according to Jason Feldman, founder of Nebraska’s new Nebraska Hemp Industries Association.

NEHIA, he said, will permit industrial hemp cultivation and development within the farm bill’s designated parameters.

Feldman, of Denton, Neb., said 22 states now have legislation supporting production of industrial hemp.

The Nebraska measure coincides with farm bill provisions, Feldman said, allowing colleges and state departments of agriculture to grow or cultivate industrial hemp for research and study for future commercial products.

Feldman said NEHIA will serve as “an educator to the public” and facilitate the needs of all levels of the industry including research, farming, manufacturing and retail.

“HIA and NEHIA will hold no position on the issue of medical or recreational marijuana legislation,” he said, “focusing on the growth of the industrial hemp market throughout Nebraska.”

Feldman said NEHIA is still “in its infancy,” but is building relationships state entities and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, to develop “a methodically developed, ag market for hemp.

“The interest to get started with agronomy research is spinning its wheels at the moment, being limited by funding, seed availability and department of ag finalizing the regulations.

“Once these steps have been taken,” Feldman said, “greenhouse production at UNL should be ready.

“In looking ahead for next year, we have also kept in close contact with the Extension office where there is a lot of interest, given the funding available.”

He said a private Nebraska company is seeking state and federal grant funding along with equity investment to move its projects forward.

“IANR understands the agronomic and processing needs of Nebraska farmers and will ensure that any future efforts are consistent with state and federal law,”said Jill Brown, assistant to the vice chancellor, at UNL’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

An internal committee to evaluate future research opportunities and financial resource availability for this research area has already been formed.

“The requirements in both federal law and state law will take some time to fully understand and implement,” Brown said. “This is specifically in the regulation that the state department of agriculture needs to certify and register all sites, including those grown by academic institutions.”

Iowa is yet to take on the question of industrial hemp production, meanwhile, according to Julie Vande Hoeff, an agricultural specialist in Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s office.

Debi Durham, director of Iowa Department of Economic Development, said her department has not discussed or questioned developing market possibilities for industrial hemp in Iowa.