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Powell Area’s First Hemp Crop Harvested

in News/Business
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By Kevin Killough and CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

The Powell area’s first hemp crop produced about 190 tons of hemp, averaging about 5 tons per acre.

Two fields were planted in June, one near Deaver and the other near Powell, totaling about 137 acres according to Mother’s Hemp Farms owner Dale Tenhulzen. However, the crop grown on the 107 acres in Deaver had to be destroyed.

“It came in too hot,” said field manager Terry O’Neill.

Regulations require that any hemp produced under licenses from the Wyoming Department of Agriculture maintain a THC level no greater than 0.3%. The chemical is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. If the plant tests higher than that, the entire crop is lost. 

“It would have been an excellent harvest,” O’Neill said of the destroyed Deaver field. 

Fortunately, the crop outside of Powell tested within the limit and was able to be harvested. From that field, O’Neill said they harvested 197 bales weighing about 1,800 to 2,000 pounds each. 

Mother’s Hemp Farms is shipping the bales to South Carolina, where the hemp will be processed for CBD, a non-psychoactive chemical in hemp that consumers believe has medicinal value. It is currently one of the more profitable uses of hemp. 

However, Wyoming Hemp Association President Justin Loeffler told state lawmakers in August that the market for hemp-derived CBD products had become oversaturated. As an example, he said some 117,000 acres of hemp were planted for CBD production last year, while U.S. processors were only able to handle 22,000 acres-worth.

“Right now there is a lot of 2019 crop that still has not been extracted into oil or made into products, which is allowing for a lot of cheap biomass being bought — and the market just hasn’t recovered,” Loeffler told the Legislature’s joint ag committee on Aug. 27, adding, “on the CBD level, we’re still seeing this as more of a boutique or bougie crop that people are going to be able to grow on small acreages.”

Loeffler said he sees the most potential for Wyoming hemp in fiber products.

Tenhulzen said in June that, since marijuana remains illegal in Wyoming, it’s an attractive place for growing hemp for CBD. In other states, cross pollination from marijuana fields is a constant threat to CBD crops, and the fields need to be separated by miles.

Shipping hemp across state lines has been a problem, with numerous cases of law enforcement agencies seizing hemp shipments on the suspicion they’re marijuana. O’Neill said he contacted all the transportation departments in the states the shipment will pass through to make sure the company wouldn’t have any problems. The officials in other states told him that, as long as they could produce the lab results showing it was under the 0.3% THC threshold, they wouldn’t have a problem.

Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Doug Miyamoto had reported some issues with THC compliance during August’s legislative meeting. He said two unnamed growers — one in the Big Horn Basin and one in Lincoln County — had crops that came in over the 0.3% threshold. The highest level the department had seen was 1.1% and he specifically referenced a crop that had tested at 0.64%.

“That’s still not a high level of THC concentration, but it’s over the standard,” the director said. For comparison, the THC content in some strains of marijuana can top 15% — 50 times higher than the limit on hemp.

Tough weather conditions that stress plants, such as the drought seen this summer in Wyoming, tend to drive up THC levels in cannabis plants, Miyamoto added. Regardless of the reason, the state has no authority to deviate from the 0.3% standard set by the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, which means noncompliant crops must be destroyed.

“That’s something that I don’t like very much and … I really don’t want to plow people’s crop’s under; I have no interest in doing that,” Miyamoto said. “But then by the same token, because hemp is regulated at the federal level, I don’t have any latitude. I don’t have anything akin to prosecutorial discretion where I can decide what I’m going to do with these crops.”

Loeffler said the industry is working to gather data on which varieties of hemp will grow the best in Wyoming, suggesting that cultivars from Oregon and Colorado may wind up producing too much THC in this climate.

“… we are a very great climate for growing hemp,” he said. Particularly with the state’s clean headwaters, “that puts us on the map to be able to produce this at a really, really high level and high quality,” Loeffler said. “But we have to do our due diligence first.”

Across the state, the Department of Agriculture had issued 27 licenses for the 2020 growing season as of August, covering about 1,010 acres of open ground and 18,200 square feet of greenhouse operations.

Despite the loss of Mother Hemp Farms’ plants near Deaver, O’Neill said it was an overall success for a first-year crop in an emerging industry. He thinks the future of hemp in Wyoming looks promising. 

“Hopefully this gets more farmers psyched,” O’Neill said. “This shows that hemp is definitely something to pay attention to.”

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Hemp industry, Ag Department await USDA response to state’s regulatory plan

in News/Agriculture/Business
CBD oil
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Hemp could be a cash crop for Wyoming growers in coming years, but seeds can’t be sown until the U.S. Department of Agriculture signs off on the state’s regulatory program.

“We have not heard much back from the USDA,” said Stacia Berry, Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) deputy director. “They anticipate having their rules out this fall.”

Hemp was legalized in 2018 after President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which allows ag producers to grow hemp as long as the plants contain no more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

In February, the Wyoming Legislature approved legislation removing hemp products from regulation by the Wyoming Controlled Substances Act, giving rule-making authority to the WDA and requiring the department to submit a state plan for the regulation of hemp to the USDA.

The WDA plan was submitted to the USDA in April.

Regulating hemp

Hemp is marijuana with a THC level lower than 0.3 percent and is grown for three primary products: Cannabidoil (CBD), seeds and grains.   

“(THC) is a genetic trait that you select for,” Berry said. “One of the things that can be a little tricky is, like any crop, it can change a little under stress, like heat or water stress.”

The WDA’s analytical services lab in Laramie will be tasked with testing hemp crops before harvest to ensure the plants have not crossed the allowable THC threshold, she said.

“We will have inspectors that go to the different farms and do testing, collect samples, then return those samples to the lab,” Berry explained.

Additionally, she said her department will work closely with law enforcement agencies to ensure the regulatory guidelines are followed.

The discussion about how to appropriately regulate hemp began about five years ago.

“We have worked extensively with other states’ departments of agriculture,” Berry said. “Especially in regards to understanding their approach to regulation: What has worked for them, what hasn’t worked.” The WDA gained significant insight from the Colorado and Kentucky licensing and testing protocols.

“Those are two of your highest-producing hemp states,” Berry explained.  

Processing and education

Ag plays a major role in economic development throughout the Bighorn Basin, so Christine Bekes, executive director of the Powell Economic Partnership, has spent the last year cultivating relationships with potential partners in the hemp industry. 

“There’s 25,000 to 50,000 products that can be made with hemp,” Bekes said. “Right now, most of the processors are looking at the CBD oil extraction.”

The biggest challenge for growers in the coming years is finding partners on the processing side, she said. 

“Our growers can grow anything, but if we can’t get it to market, it doesn’t do us any good,” Berry said. “I would caution any grower not to grow hemp without a contract.”

Once the USDA approves the regulatory program, processors can cement plans for building facilities to accommodate the predicted influx of hemp in 2020. Until then, Bekes said it’s important to bring as many partners as possible to the discussion table.  

“The biggest component is education,” she explained. “If people are considering hemp as an opportunity, whether it’s growing, processing or end products, I would really emphasize education, awareness and communication.”

The Wyoming Hemp Association, www.wyhemp.org, could be an information source for interested parties in the future, along with the WDA and University of Wyoming.

Jim Heitholt, director of the UW Powell Research and Extension Center Agricultural Experiment Station, confirmed his staff would conduct basic studies about the the viability of hemp crops in the Bighorn Basin once the USDA approved the WDA plan. As the new year draws near, both Bekes and the WDA said they’ve seen increased interest in hemp from around the state, but so far, it’s been a waiting game.

“Right now, we’re all preparing for it to be in the ground in 2020,” Bekes said. “In the meantime, the Wyoming Hemp Association has reviewed the WDA plan and engaged in conversations with the WDA and law enforcement. Growers and processors continue to work in the background.”

What’s next for hemp in Wyoming?

in News/Agriculture
Wyoming approves hemp production sale of CBD oil
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 By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

When Gov. Mark Gordon signed HB 171 into law Wednesday, he made it legal to for farmers to grow industrial hemp and sell hemp-based products like CBD oil in Wyoming.

But it likely will be a while before farmers will harvest the first hemp crop from the Cowboy State’s soil, given all that’s required to start the regulatory process.

Derek Grant, public information officer for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, said Friday that he would not speculate on when the program would begin. It might be this fall, but perhaps later, he said. “We’re going to move as quickly as we can,” Grant said.  “We’re moving with a sense of urgency with a good dose of caution.”

Approval of HB171 comes after changes occurred in the 2018 USDA farm bill to remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. The latest farm bill considers the plant as a regulated agriculture crop.

Hemp is a plant that can be used to make paper, clothing, textiles, food, shoes, building materials and thousands of other products.  The plant is part of the cannabis family but contains only trace amounts of THC – a psychoactive chemical – compared to marijuana.

HB 171 requires farmers to apply to the Agriculture Department for a license to grow hemp. The department is working to develop the required forms. It’s also completing a plan detailing the operation of regulatory program. The plan must be sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture within 30 days after the bill’s signing.

The law provides $315,000 to the state Agriculture Department to buy equipment that will test the concentration of THC in hemp to make sure it stays below 0.3 percent.  A higher THC content means the hemp will be categorized as marijuana. The bill also provides $120,000 to hire and train people to get the program going.

Rep. Bucky Loucks, R-Casper, sponsored the bill, which won strong approval in both the Senate and House this legislative session. Supporters say it will help Wyoming’s farmers develop a cash crop and diversify the state’s economy.

“I think anytime we can have more opportunity to diversify and find more products in Wyoming is a good thing,” Grant said. “We just want to make sure we do it right.” 

He urges farmers to check the department’s web page for more information.

Ron Rabou and his family operate an organic wheat farm near Albin in Laramie County. Rabou, a long-time supporter of growing industrial hemp,  said he is excited about the new law. 

“The big positive here is that we have a bill now that will provide massive opportunities for Wyoming ag producers,” he said.

But he cautions that farmers must make sure there are markets to buy the crop. Farmers who produce hemp must become experts regarding market demands, he said. 

“This is not going to be where all of a sudden, we can start growing hemp and it will make immediate profitability,” he said.  “In my opinion, it will take years for those markets to develop.”

“I think it’s great to be excited. But just because this bill got passed, doesn’t  mean (there will be) an immediate effect on the ag economy,” Rabou continued. “Be careful about jumping in with both feet at this point. Unless you have a market where you can sell your crop, having all the product in the world will not make a difference.”

For more information on the Wyoming Department of Agriculture’s hemp program, visit the department’s website at: https://wyoagric.state.wy.us/

For more information on Rabou Farms, visit its website at: http://www.raboufarms.com/

In Brief: Hemp bill clears Senate

in News/Agriculture
Hemp crop field, ALT=Wyoming hemp production
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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill legalizing the production and possession of hemp and hemp products and setting up a regulatory process for the crop was approved by the Senate on Monday.

HB 171, creating a licensing process to be followed by Wyoming farmers who wish to raise hemp, was approved on a vote of 26-2.

Congress last year approved a bill legalizing the production of hemp. Hemp, while related to marijuana, lacks the active compounds that produce marijuana’s “high.”

Wyoming in 2017 had approved legislation allowing the state to develop hemp as a viable crop. HB 171 would require the state Department of Agriculture to license hemp growers and to test crops to make sure they do not contain the compounds found in marijuana.

The bill provides $440,000 to finance the Agriculture Department’s work on regulations and testing.

In Brief: House approves bill to allow the growing of hemp

in News/Agriculture
864

By Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming farmers would be able to begin growing hemp under a measure that won final approval from the House on Tuesday.

Wyoming’s representatives voted unanimously in favor of HB 171,  which would make hemp a legal crop and provide for the regulation of growers.

Hemp is a relative to marijuana, but lacks the chemicals found in marijuana that intoxicate users. However, it has many commercial applications, including use in the textile industry and as a dietary supplement.

Because of its similarities to marijuana, the growing of hemp has been restricted for years, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently defined it as a legal crop.

Under HB 171, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture would be responsible for licensing hemp growers or processors. No one with a felony controlled substance conviction on their record could obtain a license.

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