South Dakota goals to grow to be prime hemp producer within the nation | Agriculture information

ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) — Hemp growers in South Dakota are expecting to more than double the number of acres used to grow industrial hemp, and some are even adding fiber- and seed-processing capabilities in-state.

Fiber processing facilities, or decortication plants, are expected to open in Wakonda and Winfred this fall. Ken Meyer, vice president of AH Meyer and Sons in Winfred, and John Peterson, owner of Dakota Hemp in Wakonda, will be the first fiber processing facilities to open in South Dakota.

The two men were in Aberdeen recently to talk about the future of hemp along with Derrick Dohmann, sales and marketing manager for Horizon Hemp Seeds in Willow Lake, which also has plans to expand to a seed processing facility.

All see a growing interest in the state when it comes to industrial hemp and, with long hauls required to get industrial hemp fiber to a processing facility, both Meyer and Peterson saw the need for processing facilities in the state, the Aberdeen American News reported.

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More than once there was reference to the latest National Hemp Report published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That study showed 8,000 acres planted to industrial hemp fiber, with 1,200 of those acres in South Dakota.

Peterson said right now, there’s interest in planting at least 3,000 acres in South Dakota and that could easily grow to 4,000 to 5,000 acres.

“If we hit 5,000 we’ll jump to the top in the nation,” Dohmann said, adding that the Wakonda and Winfred fiber processing facilities will double the processing capabilities in the United States.

All three talked about the benefits and ease of growing industrial hemp. Dohmann said he also has a seed variety that can be grown for both seed and fiber.

Dohmann said the recommended seed depth is a half inch with plants spaced close enough so the canopy suppresses weed growth.

“There’s no special process to get it in the ground, but row spacing is critical,” Dohmann said, noting that chemical applications for weeks aren’t yet available.

Crop insurance also isn’t available the first year, Peterson said, noting that at a crop history is needed first, but once it’s planted it’s ready to harvest in 100 days, which means if timed right the harvest of the industrial hemp can be completed before soybean harvest starts.

Anyone considering planting industrial hemp must follow licensing requirements, which include an initial application fee of $50, background checks for the producer, the property owner and any other key members of the operation, and an annual licensing fee of $500.

Meyer said the background check alone can take about three weeks, and includes fingerprints, but the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources is working on exceptions for those who are unable to provide fingerprints because of age.

Dohmann said he is able to take seed orders from producers who have started the licensing process, but cannot deliver to someone without a license.

Prior to growing, Dohmann said, a soil test is recommended to check for heavy metals. If they are detected, the crop can’t be grown for seed, although there is a producer who found heavy metals and opted to remove the seed early and grow the crop just for the fiber.

Peterson said studies have shown industrial hemp can help with remediation, so he’ll be interested to see if the heavy metals levels change on this property’s soil.

Meyer said there is some oversight by the state as the crop is grown. Officials will come once to verify the crop in the ground and the producer will have to coordinate with the state to test for THC, the psychoactive substance in marijuana, when it’s time for harvest. Once that testing is done, the farmer has 30 days to harvest.

Dohmann said so far farmers haven’t had any issues with a positive THC test.

When it comes to harvest, Dohmann said, the top is first harvested for seed, but warns that it’s harvested at about 20% to 26% moisture and should have air circulation immediately until the moisture level drops to 10%, which can happen within a couple weeks.

Peterson said heat should not be used to dry the seeds because that will affect the oil.

As for the harvest of the fiber, it should be cut 6 inches to 8 inches above the soil and then left to dry for one to three weeks until retting is complete, which is when the stalks snap in half and the fibers pull apart in long strands.

And, the final product is versatile.

“Anything you can make out of a tree you can make out of hemp but it takes 20 years to grow a tree and 4 months to grow hemp,” Meyer said.

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