It has been two years since Arkansas citizens voted for the legalization of industrial hemp and medical cannabis. Since then, the state process for setting up the regulations surrounding the new industries has moved at a glacial pace.
Like others involved in industrial hemp, Brian Madar — with Tree of Life Seeds — has been keen to see the first hemp crop planted and harvested. Madar, part of a family farming operation in both Prairie and Arkansas counties, says despite delays, an industrial hemp pilot program will soon be an option for state farmers.
“I still go down and work (the farm) on the weekends when I can. I was down helping cut rice a couple days. My dad is 93 years old and still involved in the farm, running a grain cart or working down rice ground.”
For months, scuttlebutt from many corners wondered if a new farm bill — now, likely dead until a new Congress is seated — might actually beat the state to full legalization. Madar doesn’t see it like that. “I don’t see whether (whatever happens with a new farm bill) affects the industrial hemp program in Arkansas. That’s what we’re focused on instead of the medical marijuana.”
So, where do things stand?
“Currently, we’re working on getting our applications finalized and readying those for the (Arkansas State) Plant Board. We’re working on some grow sites, some facilities to allow us to provide farmers with clean ‘starts.’ We’re also going to be able to provide them with seeds, as well.”
The response over the last two years to Madar and colleagues has been vigorous. “We’ve had overwhelming support. There have been countless farmers, some of them large farmers, contact us on a daily and weekly basis. They’re looking for direction from us.
“We’re still in the process of getting the license, so as that moves forward we’ll be able to be much more responsive. We’ll likely host a meeting once a license is in hand to introduce the farmers to some of our plans.”
What are some of those plans?
“As I mentioned, we want to provide farmers with clean starter trays that allow them to go straight into the field. We’re also looking at a potential processing program.
“I view the delay on industrial hemp as kind of a plus for us. It’s allowed us to better prepare, and better prepare the farmers in Arkansas, for what we’ll see in the future for this crop. As late as it was approved last year, I think we’d have been fighting against the summer months. Being delayed will let us be available for the farmer to come in and buy a rack of starts — 1,000 or 5,000 or 10,000 plants — to get started.”
What are the typical expectations for the initial hemp crop from farmers contacting Madar and colleagues?
“They’re looking to plant 1 to 5 acres. We want to be there to help educate them. We don’t want someone to quickly jump out and plant 10, 15, 20 acres and not have a grasp on what it will take to produce a crop.
“Our recommendation is to start small and gain knowledge about the crop and plant, all the factors that go into it. Once that happens, I believe we can grow this into an extremely viable industry for the state. But to do that, we need to have our arms wrapped around every possibility this crop holds for us.”
When might Madar hear about the license application decision?
“We’ll have things turned in within the next 30 days. We’re working on securing facilities to propagate starts. … Once the Industrial Hemp Committee of the Plant Board has a chance to review the license, I foresee a quick turnaround. They’ve done an extremely good job trying to move forward.
“There will be a lot of opportunities with this new crop. There will be economic development, jobs available. That’s true whether they want to grow, to process, or to move into an entry level position into one of the fastest-growing industries today.”