The recent legalization of industrialized hemp has opened the doors to a whole new type of Iowa crop.
Allan Richards, a Tama attorney, has obtained a license to grow industrial hemp, and started planting.
“It’s a new market in Iowa,” Richards said. “I’m trying to go with the flow and learn along the way.”
Richards and Iowa officials are learning about the growing of hemp as the crop has not been legally planted for decades.
“The licensing process was only opened up earlier this spring, my license came through in early May,” he said. “It’s like having a garden and raising plants.”
Iowa has several restrictions – farmers are only allowed to grow 40 acres of hemp and a recent law passed this year in Iowa’s legislature says it can’t be fed to animals or smoked. There can only be 0.3 percent of THC, an intoxicating chemical.
“If it rises above that then they call the plant marijuana,” Richards said.
Industrial hemp is used for its fiber, oil, grain and variety of other different things.
Richards operates American Green Farms, where he grows the industrial hemp.
“It’s been illegal for so long and it’s a new industry,” said Richards. With a “steep learning curve.”
Migrant workers have experience and can help farmers learn how to grow hemp, he said.
“We have to have migrant labor,” Richard said.
He first applied for the license so he could get outside and watch a new industry develop from the inside.
He plans to plant a new crop of hemp every year.
“I’m trying to do it the right way with everything from seed labeling, to product shipment,” Richard said. “The seeds are the key.”
It’s been 30 years since Richards’ farm land has had anything grown on it. When he was growing up hemp grew wild “like a jungle.”
“It does grow fairly easily,” he said. “Now the key is growing it and seeing where it goes with the manufacture and production in the fall.”
Richards has been around farming his entire career because of his focus on agricultural law.
“I managed a farm back in 1975, and have practiced law since then,” he said. “This is a plant, you plant a corn seed you grow corn, you plant a hemp seed you grow hemp.”
Richards is walking a tightrope as he grows hemp because a slight change in the plant’s chemical make-up could make it illegal.
“It’s like if your corn is suddenly too sweet we call it sugar,” he said.
In 2018, the U.S. Congress passed a new farm bill which included authorizations for industrialized hemp production. Since then U.S. Department of Agriculture has worked with states to start production.
The establishment of hemp as a regulated commodity paves the way for U.S. hemp farmers to participate in other USDA farm programs.
In 2019 the USDA released rules for the production of hemp, which include requirements like Richards’ license.
In April Iowa’s plan for hemp farming was approved by the USDA.
“We know farmers are eager for new opportunities and this milestone means they are one step closer to being able to grow hemp during the 2020 growing season,” said Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig.
Richards is worried that only large industrialized farms will be allowed to get licenses in the future.
“I’m assuming it will be very political, much like the gaming industry,” he said. “They’re going to give those licenses to the big boys.”
For now Richards has been able to get into farming hemp in 2020, but his crop has to be sold out of the state.
“Hopefully the state of Iowa allows me to continue,” he said.