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A Calloway, Ky., County farmer, harvests hemp at Murray State University's West Farm in Murray, Ky. on Aug. 16, 2017. Kentucky's resurgent hemp sector flexed more economic clout in 2018, with processors reporting sharply higher sales and farmers reaping more than twice as much income from their crop.

A Calloway, Ky., County farmer, harvests hemp at Murray State University's West Farm in Murray, Ky. on Aug. 16, 2017. Kentucky's resurgent hemp sector flexed more economic clout in 2018, with processors reporting sharply higher sales and farmers reaping more than twice as much income from their crop.

A new crop may be available to Iowa farmers next year, as some state lawmakers are designing a program for growing industrial hemp.

“I think there’s potential for an alternative crop for Iowa farmers,” said Tim Kapucian, a Republican state senator and farmer from Keystone.

Industrial hemp is plant member of the cannabis family. The plant’s seeds and stalks have myriad commercial uses, including in building materials, paper, textiles, oils and food.

For decades it was illegal to grow hemp, which is a cousin to marijuana, even though hemp has only tiny traces of the psychoactive element that gives marijuana users the high effect. Marijuana has 4 percent to 7 percent of the psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC; hemp has between just 0.1 percent and 0.4 percent of THC.



The federal government in 2014 allowed states to create industrial hemp pilot programs, but the real movement came this past year when, in the farm bill, the federal government legalized hemp as an agricultural product and gave states the ability to create their own, unique industrial hemp programs.

With that federal blessing, Iowa lawmakers, some of whom had been proposing industrial hemp pilot programs in previous years, have escalated their efforts.

Iowa is one of just seven states without an industrial hemp program, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“It was three-and-a-half years ago we had our first interim hearings on this, brought people in from across Iowa and the country, basically,” said Kevin Kinney, a Democratic state senator, farmer and retired deputy sheriff from Oxford. “It’s something that, maybe with the way commodity prices are, it just gives farmers another alternative. Especially the small farmers.”

Among myriad applications, industrial hemp can be used for: housing construction materials; ropes, nets, webbing and carpets; biodiesel fuel; oils and lotions; clothing; and paper.

Advocates for industrial hemp often had to push through the misconception that hemp and marijuana are more closely related, or that hemp could be used as a recreational drug. The federal government’s move to decriminalize hemp in the 2018 farm bill helped overcome that hurdle and get more state lawmakers on board with a hemp program.

“I think we’ve got a good shot this year especially because the feds had it in the farm bill,” Kapucian said. “That was the impetus to actually get it kicked up and rolling.”

Lawmakers said they are being careful to design a program that would specifically allow for the growth of industrial hemp and not marijuana, and provide punishments for anyone who might attempt to cross that line.

“I think there’s an opportunity for some farmers out there to do this, but with that opportunity I think there’s also opportunity for some people to try to game the system, especially early on,” said Jarad Klein, a state representative and farmer from Keota. “I think after the first few years, we will have gotten a lot of the people that are looking to cause problems out of the way. They’ll realize this isn’t a get out of jail free card.”

Advocates say industrial hemp could be a new supplementary option for Iowa farms, where corn and soybeans are the dominant commodities. Some of those farmers already are expressing interest, lawmakers said.

“I’m getting contacted by multiple farmers, big and small. So it’s something I think people are looking at just to see if it’s a viable alternative to their operations,” Kinney said. “It’s an alternative.”

Even advocates of the program in the Iowa Legislature are stressing that, should a program be approved, farmers should not expect hemp to be a miracle crop that will provide a huge financial boost. They are urging caution, even including in the proposal a limit on 40 acres per farmer.

“We don’t want people thinking this is going to be a crop that can save their farm,” Klein said. “I don’t want farmers out there thinking this is the next best thing, that this is going to generate all this money.”

Kapucian said he thinks a new hemp program could be similar to how ethanol, the corn-based fuel that is now blended into the nation’s fuel supply, got its start in Iowa.

“It’s going to be a steep learning curve,” Kapucian said. “And like anything else, there’s going to be some failures along with some success stories.”

Klein compared hemp’s potential to the influx of solar energy in his area of the state. He said if a program is passed, participation likely would be scant at first, but could grow if a few farmers are successful.

“I think at the very peak of this we’re talking maybe 15,000 acres. ... That would be a very, very extreme end. I think initially we’re talking a few hundred acres,” Klein said. “It just takes time for some of this to get adopted. ... This could be one of those things (that eventually grows), but somebody’s got to jump in and take risk.”

Companies that would process industrial hemp have already expressed interest in setting up shop in Iowa if a program is approved, lawmakers said. Kapucian said he has been contacted by businesses from Nebraska, Kentucky and one run by a former Iowan living in Texas.

“I’m very happy that we’ve been contacted by people from different states that are really interested in the processing part of it,” Kapucian said. “That’s always been one of my concerns, that we grow the processing along with the production so we don’t end up with some people with a bunch of product out there with no place to go with it.”

Bills have been introduced and are making their way through the approval process in both the Iowa Senate and Iowa House. Lawmakers said they are optimistic they can make Senate File 279 and House File 733 similar and get a bill passed by both chambers and sent to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk for her approval before this year’s session ends, likely in April or May.

“I hope it passes and I hope it opens up new markets. One of the things I’ve been looking at is trying to find things to stimulate economic growth in rural areas,” Kinney said. “I’m optimistic with how this is proceeding at this point.”

Daryl Beenken combines and his wife, Nancy, runs the grain cart in a corn field. The Beenkens were custom farming a field for Rob Wilms of Britt between Britt and Crystal Lake in October 2013. 

Harvest has begun in fits and starts, but it sure seemed to be well underway on this area cornfield. This shot was taken east of the Berg Stock and Grain Farms, about 5 miles west of Osage on Highway 9 in October 2013. 

Clint Brown of Mason City mounts the head on his father's combine as a "supermoon" rises east of Mason City in September 2015. Sunday's lunar event combined the supermoon with a lunar eclipse later in the evening.

Don Fix of Fix Family Farms in Mason City looks over a load of pumpkins that will be headed to a store in Waterloo in October 2015. 

Heavy rains created problems for some North Iowa farmers looking forward to an early harvest in 2016.

It took four combines three hours to harvest 160 acres of soybeans for Tony Hurlburt near Lone Rock in October 2016. The neighbors took to the field on Oct. 2 after Merwyn “Mert” Hurlburt died Oct. 1 at the Hawkeye Care Center in Bancroft.

A farmer lays tile in a harvested cornfield with a tile plow in rural Kossuth County in November 2016. 

Cresco farmer Eric Reicks spotted this black bear while harvesting corn near Schley in Howard County in November 2017. 

Cresco farmer Eric Reicks spotted this black bear while harvesting corn near Schley in Howard County in November 2017. 

Cresco farmer Eric Reicks spotted this black bear while harvesting corn near Schley in Howard County in November 2017. 

AutoCart software along with the SmartHP hardware system, allows a tractor pulling a grain cart to autonomously follow a corn harvester for offloading in November 2017. 

AutoCart software along with the SmartHP hardware system, allows a tractor pulling a grain cart to autonomously follow a corn harvester for offloading in November 2017. 

AutoCart software along with the SmartHP hardware system, allows a tractor pulling a grain cart to autonomously follow a corn harvester for offloading in November 2017. 

DES MOINES — The Iowa House joined the Senate in opening the door for farmers who want to grow industrial hemp.

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