SIOUX CITY -- Generations after U.S. farmers were first barred from growing hemp, Siouxland-area farmers and horticulture enthusiasts seem to be intrigued by the plant -- a group of about 60 of them gathered at the Sioux City Public Museum for a forum on hemp in Iowa.
The Siouxland Industrial Hemp Forum was presented by the NuHemp Group of Iowa, which bills itself as a consulting agency for future hemp farmers in the state.
State legislators have begun showing interest in hemp policy, which was sanctioned by the 2018 Farm Bill. A House Agriculture subcommittee last week signed off on legislation creating the Iowa Hemp Act, authorizing the production of hemp under the regulation of Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.
The Iowa Senate previously had approved its own hemp bill, but it isn't the same as the House version. Iowa remains one of only nine states with no hemp legislation on the books.
Robin Pruisner, the Entomologist and Bureau Chief of Entomology and Plant Science in the Consumer Protection Division of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, said at the forum that there'll still be a lot of red-tape for the state even if a hemp bill reaches the governor's desk. Iowa would have to submit a hemp plan to the federal government to get approval.
"A little over a week ago, the USDA actually made it public, that they have to go through rulemaking to implement that 2018 Farm Bill hemp provision. If you're familiar with the federal government, oftentimes rulemaking can be a lengthy process," Pruisner said. "However, (Agriculture) Secretary Perdue has said that he thinks they'll have it ready to go by the 2020 growing season. Which is not very far away."
Pruisner said there are basically four routes to make money on hemp: hemp-derived CBD oil, which is used for medicinal purposes; hemp as grain; hemp as fiber; and hemp as seed oil.
"A lot of times people will call me and say, 'I want to grow hemp.' And then I say, 'Which kind?' And then it gets really quiet," she said.
Attendees expressed concerns about the levels of THC (a psychoactive compound in marijuana) allowable in their hemp: under current proposals, any hemp crop containing more than than three-tenths of one percent THC is considered marijuana and must be destroyed. They also wondered when exactly state lawmakers will finish the bill.
The current bill also limits the total allowable acreage for growing hemp to 40 acres; some attendees wondered if this limit would choke off the ability to make money off the crop.
Dr. Christopher Disbro, an Iowa native, physician and president of the Iowa Hemp Association, said he suspects Gov. Kim Reynolds will sign a hemp bill when and if it lands on her desk.
"The governor's office, we've had great meetings over there, I won't claim to speak for her office, but they've been supportive, they're looking forward to signing something," Disbro said.
Randy Hunt, a Woodbury County farmer, was in attendance at the forum and asked a number of questions. He first became interested in the topic about a year ago, and he sees hemp as a possible avenue to diversify his crop portfolio.
"We're looking at it as another alternative to what we have so far as corn and beans," Hunt said. "It gives us more options."
Disbro said that, despite growing popular support in the country for hemp and its close relative, marijuana, some in the Iowa legislature remain diametrically opposed to anything that reeks of cannabis legalization. He pointed out that a person can die more easily of drinking too much water or nicotine poisoning than they could succumb to marijuana, to say nothing of hemp.
"You've got a generation of politicians that had been raised on this, 'Everything about this plant is evil, it's going turn you into a mindless zombie.' And it does not matter what you say or what evidence you show, they don't care, they're never going to believe it," he said.