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Idaho’s first hemp crop is months away

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

POCATELLO –Idaho farmers will grow the state’s first-ever hemp crop in 2022 but it will be a very small one.

No one knows exactly what to expect from this year’s hemp crop because it’s never been grown in Idaho, which was the last state in the nation to allow hemp production.

People interested in the state’s nascent hemp industry were reminded recently that they are the trailblazers for this new crop and it will take time for hemp to take hold in Idaho.

“It starts with you guys,” Morgan Tweet, chief operating officer and co-founder of IND Hemp, told people who attended an informational meeting on hemp Feb. 4 at 1000 Springs Mill in Buhl.

More than 100 people attended the meeting, including farmers, processors and other interested individuals.

Tweet said hemp production is a marathon, not a sprint, and she counseled people interested in growing or processing hemp in Idaho to pace themselves.

“There are a lot of learning curves we have to (go through),” she said. But, she added, “I think it has so much potential here in Idaho.”

IND Hemp is an industrial hemp fiber and oilseed processor based in Montana.

The company was invited to address Idahoans interested in hemp by Tim Cornie, owner of 1000 Springs Mill, a food company that contracts with growers in the area.

IND Hemp has contracted with Montana farmers to grow hemp since 2019 and the company is looking to contract with Idaho growers as well, Cornie said.

“They have the knowledge and experience with hemp, so we wanted to bring them here to educate growers in Idaho,” he said.

Tweet said IND Hemp is interested in helping Idaho’s hemp industry get off the ground.

“We want to have a grower network of producers here in this region,” she said.

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture in November began accepting applications from people interested in growing or processing industrial hemp this year.

Industrial hemp, by federal law, must not exceed 0.3 percent of THC, the psychoactive compound that gets a user of marijuana high. According to experts, it is impossible to get high from industrial hemp.

Idaho’s hemp program, as required by federal law, has safeguard to ensure hemp grown in the state does not exceed that 0.3 percent THC threshold.

Industrial hemp products have always been sold legally in the United States but not until the 2018 farm bill was passed was it legal to grow and process hemp commercially in the U.S.

The hemp products sold in the U.S. previously came from other countries.

Idaho became the last state in the nation to legalize the production and processing of industrial hemp when Gov. Brad Little signed House Bill 126 into law last April. 

The bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 30-5 and in the House by a vote of 44-26.

The legislation is a narrow bill and only allows for people to grow and process industrial hemp if they obtain a license from the ISDA. People can also transport it on behalf of someone with a license.

According to Casey Monn, the ISDA bureau chief for hemp, 22 hemp applications have officially been submitted to the ag department for review.

A total of 81 total hemp applications have been started but only 22 of those have officially been submitted to ISDA for review.

Of those 22 applications, 10 are from hemp handlers or processors and 12 are from farmers who seek to grow a combined 270 acres of hemp in Idaho this year. 

That’s more than the 0 acres grown in the state in previous years but it pales in comparison to many other crops grown in the state.

For example, Idaho farmers grow about 1 million acres of wheat, 500,000 acres of barley, 350,000 acres of corn and more than 300,000 acres of potatoes each year.

Cornie said it will take time for hemp to catch on as a crop of any significance in Idaho and it’s likely a lot of farmers who have some interest in the crop are waiting to see how other farmers fare with it before trying it themselves.

“Some people are going to watch their neighbor play with hemp,” he said. “It’s just people putting their toe in the water right now.”

One of those is Twin Falls County farmer Rick Brune, a member of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation board of directors.

Brune attended the Feb. 4 hemp meeting in Buhl and said he learned a lot from it: “It definitely helped fill me in on what’s going on with hemp.”

But, he added, “I’d prefer to sit and watch it for a while and see how it goes.”

Based on information on crop prices and what it would cost the grower to transport hemp to Montana provided by IND Hemp officials during the Feb. 4 meeting, Brune said hemp wouldn’t pencil out for his farm at this time.

“If you’re shipping it locally, it would work but if you’re shipping it to Montana, it doesn’t work for me,” he said.

For now, farmers plan to grow hemp on a small scale in Idaho but Cornie, who plans to grow 10 acres this year, and others believe the potential is there for it play a much bigger role in Idaho in the future.

“I think it’s a viable commodity and I think it’s going to work,” he said.

Hempitecture is a company based in Ketchum that specializes in building materials derived from hemp biomass.

The company last year received a $207,000 Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission grant from the state to partner with University of Idaho on research and development of a natural fiber insulation product Hempitecture produces for the building industry. 

For now, Hempitecture uses hemp imported from other areas but Mattie Mead, the company’s owner and founder,

looks forward to the day Idaho farmers can produce hemp for the company’s manufacturing plant in Idaho.

For now, Hempitecture plans to bring most of the hemp fiber it needs to Idaho from IND Hemp.

“We do see the possibility of having hemp as an agricultural opportunity in Idaho” in the future, Mead said.

“We don’t expect everyone to rush into it,” he added. “I think it will happen in phases. It will be a process. I do think it will take time to mature.”

Ben Brimlow, an IND Hemp agronomist, told people during the Feb. 4 hemp informational meeting that the company believes hemp would fare well in Idaho’s climate and because the state has a reliable source of irrigation water.

“Fiber hemp loves heat and it loves water,” he said. “It would prefer the Idaho environment.”

In Idaho, hemp grown for fiber would be planted in mid-April into May and cut in mid-August.

Fiber hemp grown in Idaho would likely reach up to 15-20 feet tall, Brimlow said.

“If you do choose to grow this, so many people will stop by and take a picture,” he said.

Grain hemp grown in Idaho doesn’t need to be planted early and could be planted in May. There is a wide window to harvest grain hemp, Brimlow said.

He said hemp is grown and harvested using standard farming equipment.

“If you can plant wheat, you can plant hemp. If you can combine wheat, you can combine hemp,” he said.