Now There Is More than Corn in Indiana


By Jessica M. Hancock

October 22, 2020, was a great day! On this particular Thursday, just 70 days before the end of what is widely considered one of the most hellish years in modern history (aka the initial year of COVID-19 pandemic), the USDA approved the Indiana Hemp Plan, making it legally possible to commercially grow and process hemp in the state as regulated through the Office of the Indiana State Chemist (OISC).

It should have been announced with much fanfare and rejoicing. It should have been decried from mountain tops (if Indiana had any mountains) by angels bearing long-ass trumpets. At the very least, it should have been announced with much more pomp and circumstance than the simple news release issued by the Purdue University College of Agriculture that day. 

This one-page letter made official what many aspiring private hemp farmers in Indiana had been waiting for since at least 2014 when a pilot program that allowed for industrial hemp cultivation went into effect. The 2014 program was deliberately difficult and stipulated that hemp growers could only obtain a license if they were conducting “research” and had a proposal in place and that proposal was associated with a university researcher. 

The 2020 approved hemp plan transitioned the 2014 program into a commercial hemp production plan that did not require the research component, or the association with a university researcher, and made it far easier for Indiana farmers to get on board and participate. All they had to do was apply for a license through the OISC’s new application software, pay a fee, and wait for the approval.  You cannot obtain a license if you have been convicted of a felony related to a controlled substance in the last 10 years.

So, what is a law-abiding farmer to do once they have their license? 

The type of license obtained will determine where the hemp production facility can be located. From there, the task turns to materials and that means obtaining seed. Since farming is all about yield, seed genetics is important.

The legalization of hemp production introduced a new crop variety into the marketplace. According to the USDA, the term “hemp” means “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 THC concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” 

Things to consider when purchasing hemp seed include legality (only purchase well-packaged seed with a label that conforms to state and federal law), the source company (be sure to validate all seed claims such as 100% feminization, 100% germination, extremely high or low cannabinoid content, etc.), and request proof of stability (to help ensure the variety used has performed consistently for a number of generations IN YOUR GROWING REGION as well as for stable THC content). Other considerations might include whether the seed is certified and if the seed will conform to the method intended for growing.

After the hemp is grown and ready for harvest small decisions can have a big impact. Best practices are not readily established or widely shared among farmers, however, in general, there are four broad phases: 

  1. Choosing the right time to harvest
  2. The harvest
  3. Drying and curing the hemp
  4. Final Testing

Choosing the right time is critical. Full-term hemp matures in between 90 and 100 days minimum. Autoflowers, the friendliest of hemp plants to grow, can finish in about 75 days. Regardless of the plant grown, harvest too soon and your plants won’t reach their full resin potential; harvest too late and they quickly lose their potency. Farmers also need to factor in the time it takes for required state lab tests before the harvest. Weather is also a factor – a hard frost will most certainly kill the plant. Likewise, heavy rain and wind can severely damage the plant and wash away the terpenes or resins and make it difficult to dry and cure.

When it comes to the actual harvest, the method selected will depend on the end product – if the farmer is producing CBD or CBG then cutting the plant down with a combine will suffice. If smokable flowers are the goal, then harvesting by hand is the only option. Obviously one is much more labor-intensive than the other, but the financial reward is indubitably linked.

The last step in the harvest is drying and curing the hemp. Farmers have the option to send their biomass directly to a processor or dry and cure it on their own property. It is important to dry the hemp to lock in the quality and potency. Curing hemp, which involves removing even more moisture than drying alone, ensures that the hemp does not grow mold or lower the quality and market value of the product.

After the hemp is dried and cured final testing is necessary to ensure the CBD or CBG content of the crop and that the THC content is within legal limits. Indiana hemp farmers are blessed with a good climate, growing season, soil, and access to fresh water. As such, it has been difficult for many farmers to grow hemp that does not exceed THC limits.  A good problem to have, but one with serious legal and financial ramifications if not properly and expertly managed.

Competition for commercial hemp production is intense as states, tribal nations, and US territories open to hemp farming. There are literally billions of dollars USD at stake. As of July 27, 2021, according to the UDSA, there are 47 Indian nations with USDA Hemp Producer Licenses or Approved plans. An additional five Indian nations have plans under review and two other nations are in the process of drafting their plan. 27 states, including Indiana, have approved plans or producer licenses in place. Two states, Arizona, and California have hemp plans under review. Idaho and Northern Marianas Island are pending legislation. The remaining 20 states will continue to operate under the 2014 pilot.

With more and more of the general populace understanding the benefits of hemp, and accepting that hemp is here to stay, the demand for products derived from this genius plant will grow. Corn and soy in Indiana have a new competitor and it packs a serious punch! Hemp in Indiana will drive Indiana agriculture to new highs, and the farmers who get on board now, and give themselves time in these early days will be the ones who profit most and innovate best.

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