By Dennis Minich
Hemp has long been known as an effective product for a number of commercial uses, but because of the weed’s relationship with marijuana, the crop was not a legal option. But that changed in 2018, when as part of the USDA’s 2019 Farm Bill, research and development of the crop received the government’s OK.
On June 22, Show-Me Hemp in Garden City held an open house talking to farmers, builders and others about the potential uses for the once-outlawed crop. Garden City was one of six sites from throughout the state, joined by some local universities, to serve as test areas for growing a variety of hemp strains.
Bill Cook, with Show-Me Hemp and a spokesman for the Missouri Organic Association, said, “We are excited to be a small part of this research. We are learning so much more about the uses for hemp and I think when we get things figured out, farmers are risk takers, they will try this.”
One of the main uses currently for hemp is CBD oil, a product Cook said he has come to depend on.
“I developed arthritis. I started taking the CBD oil three years ago and I don’t think I would have made it without it,” Cook said.
But CBD oil is only one use highlighted during the meeting Meghan Fox, the executive director at Show-Me Hemp said, “The attitude is changing because people are being educated. People didn’t realize all of the products that can be made from hemp. It can be used in biodegradable plastics and it is strong enough that it can be used in computer microprocessors. It can be used in livestock feed, to make paper and to make clothing.”
One of the people demonstrating uses showed that hemp can be processed to be a building block or insulation with some major advantages over traditional insulation: the hemp product would be fire and bug proof.
Leading the hemp research in Missouri is a team from Lincoln University in Jefferson City. Babu Valliyodan, a professor of molecular biology and genomics heads up the team and spoke at last week’s meeting.
“You can grow hemp anywhere. It is now grown in 48 states. In 2020, we started a pilot experiment with 30 varieties from throughout the world. We are looking to see what grows best in different parts of the state,” Valliyodan said. “The biggest problems are stabilizing the genetics and educating law enforcement because hemp looks and smells so much like marijuana.”
The difference in the plants is the amount of THC produced. Marijuana has a THC level of .3 (three-tenths of 1 percent.) Hemp contains .2 or less. Valliyodan said a key of the local research is to consistently get the level below .1.
One problem farmers may face is hemp can develop the higher THC level on its own, usually when conditions are hot and dry.
“When that happens, you have to destroy it,” Cook said.
Early in the use of CBD, some product with higher THC levels slipped through.
Dale Ludwig, CEO of the Midwest Hemp Association, said, “Early on, many drug dealers were involved. They just slipped over to the CBD. But we have gotten the bad characters out of it and now the crops are being grown by good hardworking farmers.”
One of the main problems hemp growers face will be marketing and processing the product. Unlike Europe, there are few facilities in the U.S. to process hemp. Lincoln University has testing facilities, but no processing at this time.
Valliyodan said that may change quickly as major corporations such as Boeing, Tesla and Proctor and Gamble are looking at ways hemp may be used.
“I think we will see more commercial acreage in a year or two,” he said. “That’s why it’s important we educate people now. Hemp has been growing for 80 years and we have been trying to burn it out, but it keeps coming back so we know it is
resilient. We need to learn what works best for the different uses and develop those types of crops.
The Show-Me Hemp facility, 54 State Highway F, includes a museum which explains the history and uses of hemp and a retail shop containing a variety of hemp products including CBD oil and clothing.
The public will be invited back to the facility Aug. 24 to see the final results of the test crops.