Industrial hemp production is coming to Arkansas. So, might it fit into a row crop farmer’s plans?
Brian Madar, with Tree of Life Seeds (http://www.treeoflifeseeds.com/) has some answers. He spoke with Delta Farm Press in March. Among his comments:
On Madar’s farming background…
“I’m 50 years old and I’ve been farming since I was a kid. I grew up on the farm working with my dad and brother. I farmed with them and rented my own ground until around 2005.
“We farm in Lonoke in (Arkansas’) Prairie County and also in Lonoke County.
“At that time, I got into the oil and gas industry building water transfer companies. We were basically just sending water to a drilling rig versus a rice field. I was in that industry for about 10 years but was going back down and helping my dad and brother on the farm every chance I could. That’s still the case today — if I’m free, I’ll do whatever they need help with.
On questions from farmers regarding hemp…
“Well, the first question is ‘when are we going to be able to grow this plant?’ Our generation of farmers, pretty much as a whole, is excited about a new crop, a new style of revenue stream.
“There are also frequent questions about labor and innovations moving forward with this crop. There are questions on input costs, fertilization, harvesting methods, insect concerns — the same kinds of questions when they’re growing a typical row crop. They want to know about storage and processing of the crop.
“Arkansas is probably the most innovative state I’ve been in when it comes to putting together new resources in the ag industry. I was talking to a group of farmers the other night and they’re talking about everything from new designs on floats to levee squeezers. Arkansas always seems to be out front. We have a bunch of innovative farmers.
“Right now, with industrial hemp, a lot of it has to be harvested by hand. As the industry evolves, I believe we’ll see the many machinery advancements develop.”
On growing hemp…
“There are three crop types under the industrial hemp umbrella.
“In Arkansas, we’re first interested in growing a crop yielding the cannabinoid, CBD, also known as cannabidiol. It is a more specialized crop that requires a bit more hands-on attention. Our company specializes in high-CBD cultivars for oil production.
“So, the crop will be hand-harvested, air-dried in a barn, a shop, a hay house. From there, it’ll go to the processor. We hope to have a processing facility in central Arkansas soon.
“When a crop is ready for harvest, it will be tested for its cannabinoid profile and also to make sure the THC level stays below 0.3 percent. The THC level will be regulated by the state Plant Board and they’ll test before we harvest it, to assure it is below 0.3 percent THC and compliant with the 2014 farm bill.”
Does it have to be grown in a secure facility?
“No. The state Plant Board requires GPS coordinates for every field grown. As good stewards of the program, we’ll want to relay that information to local and county officials, as well. Signs will be up in every field saying ‘this is an industrial hemp research program.’
“To date, we’ve grown industrial hemp in six other states. We don’t see any activity around our crops. Occasionally, a couple of stalks are chopped but once everyone figures out it’s industrial hemp, they leave everything alone.”
On the second and third types of hemp…
“The second type of hemp is a plant grown for seed for hemp heart production. Right now, Walmart, Walgreen’s and Target carry hemp heart products because they’re a ‘super food.’ They’re high in omegas and proteins.
“Currently, all the hemp hearts are being imported from outside the country — Canada and Europe. The American farmer is missing the boat on that market and we need to be producing that crop right here.
“The third type is a plant grown for fiber production.
“Right now, the easiest to market is the high-CBD/low-THC crop. That will go to a facility for extraction and will yield crude CBD oil for marketable products.”
What kind of money are we talking about this industry generating in the future?
“We’d like to contract a farmer who grows this crop using our genetics. We want to contract that for $35 a pound paid to the farmer minus any deductions for moisture — just like with a corn crop. We typically see about a pound per plant and there are anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 plants per acre. So, that means anywhere from $35,000 to $50,000 per acre.
“We’ve proposed to the state Plant Board to start this up as a pilot program on 1 to 3 acres — no more than 5 — because it’s such a labor-intensive crop. We want to be able to facilitate all the product coming back into an extraction or processing facility.
“It would be really nice if we could have 30 or 40 1-acre plots. We’ll start on a smaller level and, as resources become available along with processing facilities, the farmers who have been successful on 1- or 3-acre grows could go apply for more acres. We don’t want to grow crops out past the runway, so to speak.”