A farm in Warren County, Illinois is getting attention for one of the crops they’ve been cultivating.
State and federal laws that banned growing industrial hemp were lifted in 2018.
The Huston Farm near Roseville, Illinois is one of the few getting a head start.
Farmer and CEO of American Hemp Research Andy Huston told Local 4 News it was hemp’s controversial cousin that got him started.
He hoped to grow medical marijuana when it was approved in Illinois, but those plans didn’t pan out.
Now for the past year, his farm is one of four contracted with Western Illinois University to research the production and applications for hemp.
Using what he’s learned, he’s hoping to help other farmers interested in adding hemp to their fields.
Hemps best-known use at the moment is medicinal, found in CBD oils, but it can also be used as food or fibers to create clothes or building materials.
That’s why farmers hope there will be a market for the crop.
Andy Huston said, “Tons of potential.”
WIU Agronomist and researcher Dr. Win Phippen said, “I think we can work out how to grow it; it’s who is going to buy it is sort of the most important question.”
A bit more traffic to Andy Huston’s farm on Wednesday.
Huston said, “Eager and excited to see how this all plays out; it’s going to be fun to watch and see how it grows.”
Ag educators and farmers from Illinois and Iowa are taking a peek inside the sixth generation farmer’s converted garage to see how his crop of hemp is maturing.
Farming near Macomb, Stan Dixon said, “I want to find out what it’s all about.”
Stan Dixon made his way from his farm southwest of Macomb to learn if it’s worth trading some acres of corn and soybeans.
Dixon said, “Farmers are always looking for ways to make more money and the way that crop prices have been in corn and beans lately, the margins have been so slim.”
And Huston said some early estimates — based off their first yield last year — show hemp could help farmers’ bottom line.
Huston said, “Close to 2,000 plants per acre, that’s 2,000 pounds [of hemp material] per acre times ten, that’s a growth of $20,000 per acre.”
He said that math puts the value per acre at nearly 20 times corn and beans.
But he admits these are still very early days.
Huston said, “My mom equated to it this way, she says it’s kind of like when the pioneers were going west in the 1800s. You were moving; you didn’t know exactly where you’re going or how they were going to play out.”
For Huston, this labor-intensive crop still requires investigating.
Huston said, “We haven’t even touched on the fiber end of it, so all the research that we’re doing has just strictly been with CBD strains.”
While hemp has some producers dreaming big, the reality is managed expectations.
Dixon said, “Try a little bit on a small scale and just try to learn and see what direction I want to go.”
Dr. Phippen said, “Best advise I can give is start small. I know a lot of people have grand ideas of, I’m going to convert 150 acres.”
One of the last steps was completed in Illinois Tuesday to finalize state guidelines to grow industrial hemp.
Huston said that would mean farmers like him will soon be able to apply for a license to plant the crop in their fields this summer if approved.
Huston told Local 4 News farmers can reach out to him if that have questions.