May 7, 2019
More than 350 farmers sent in applications to farm industrial hemp within 48 hours of forms going live at the end of April on the Illinois Department of Agriculture website. Director John Sullivan says his department has caught up with the enthusiastic backlog.
Applications representing almost 8,700 acres have flooded his office. Sullivan says a majority of the more than 470 grower applicants have already been accepted, and more trickle in each day. His department has also received and issued dozens of processor permits.
“The application is fairly detailed, and we did that on purpose,” Sullivan says of the $100 application process that requests coordinates for hemp acreage. “We’re trying to gather as much information as we can so that when our staff sits down, they can go through that application, verify the accuracy of the information, hit ‘approve,’ and send out the license.”
Sullivan adds that the majority of farmers applying to grow industrial hemp in Illinois, which is legal for the first time since World War II, will be farming for cannabidiol, or CBD oil.
Bill Bodine, associate director of legislation at Illinois Farm Bureau, says his group has supported industrial hemp farming for more than 20 years. With the outgoing Gov. Bruce Rauner administration signing a law allowing industrial hemp farming in August 2018, Bodine says IDOA was able to go through public comments, hearings and rule drafts in time for the 2019 growing season.
“We’re very appreciative of the hard work that the department did in getting all of this ready to go, because they had to get a lot done in a short amount of time,” Bodine says. “Our members wanted to apply and plant this spring, and that’s what they got.”
Sullivan says the previous administration “slow-walked” hemp rulemaking, emphasizing it wasn’t a priority to the Bureau of Medicinal Plants and department legal staff.
“When the new administration came in, it was just the opposite,” Sullivan says. “In discussions with Gov. [J.B.] Pritzker, he made it clear this was something we needed to get going as soon as possible. And I agreed, based on the interest I’ve seen.”
According to IDOA rules, staff will inspect acres throughout the year as they look out for tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, levels in the hemp crop. If hemp exceeds 0.3% THC, it must be burned.
“Those THC levels rise as the crop is maturing. It can change in the latter days of its growing process, so timing of the harvest here is going to be critical,” Sullivan says.
Bodine cautions farmers to try to scope out a market for their product, whether it be seed, fiber or flower for making CBD oils. While contracts may not be available, developing relationships with buyers now will help farmers set expectations for revenue and a budget for inputs, he says.
“There are no processors in the state of Illinois yet. There will be eventually,” Bodine concludes. “There are some in other states, but then you’ve got the cost of transportation as well, so that’s why I say there’s a lot of learning to be done here. Part of this process going forward is understanding all those dynamics.”
About the Author(s)
Associate Editor, Prairie Farmer
Austin Keating is the newest addition to the Farm Progress editorial team working as an associate editor for Prairie Farmer magazine. Austin was born and raised in Mattoon and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in journalism. Following graduation in 2016, he worked as a science writer and videographer for the university’s supercomputing center. In June 2018, Austin obtained a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, where he was the campus correspondent for Planet Forward and a Comer scholar.
Austin is passionate about distilling agricultural science as a service for readers and creating engaging content for viewers. During his time at UI, he won two best feature story awards from the student organization JAMS — Journalism Advertising and Media Students — as well as a best news story award.
Austin lives in Charleston. He can sometimes be found at his family’s restaurant the Alamo Steakhouse and Saloon in Mattoon, or on the Embarrass River kayaking. Austin is also a 3D printing and modeling hobbyist.
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