The High Points of Indiana’s New Crop

The High Points of Indiana’s New Crop

A plant that was once illegal to cultivate now seems set to break into numerous industry sectors over the next few years and Indiana is planning to be ready for the rush. Industrial hemp, a non-intoxicating plant that was historically prohibited because of its illegal cousin marijuana, now has more than 200 licensed growers throughout the state according to 2019’s figures. Those growers increased the acreage of hemp by around 35,000% over the preceding year, after the federal farm bill changes relating to hemp had taken effect.

Early in 2020, the Indiana State Hemp Plan was formally submitted to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). As it turns out, industrial hemp is likely going to be one of the one of the state’s most regulated crops. 2020 is still considered a research year for hemp in Indiana, so the number of growers will be limited to 300 and they’ll all need research licenses.

The Office of the Indiana State Chemist (OISC) regulates industrial hemp. They have added additional staff for inspections, increased lab capacity, and secured a Schedule 1 compliant lab program for testing. Farmers looking to grow hemp will have to submit an application and research proposal, get licensed, and the crop will have to be sampled and tested before harvesting to ensure it doesn’t contain more than 3% THC (which is the chemical in marijuana that makes people high).

That’s a lot of hoops for a grower to jump through. So, what’s the potential for industrial hemp? Who would our customers be?

 

A Versatile Plant

Finding the right market is one of the biggest concerns reported by our state’s budding hemp sector. Fortunately, one of the good things about hemp is that it’s not really limited to any one particular type of customer. According to research shared by Purdue University’s College of Agriculture, the plant fiber and oils produced by hemp can be made into all kinds of different products.

“Hemp fiber can potentially replace other biological fibers in many applications, but also can sometimes compete with minerals such as glass fiber and steel,” researchers Ernest Small and David Marcus wrote.

The fibers could be used for textiles such as clothing, upholsteries, and carpeting. Manufacturers can use hemp in plastic composites to improve characteristics like stiffness, impact resistance, bending, and tensile strength – ideal for things in automotive products, and others. There are also many applications in the pulp and paper industry.

Hemp fiber is also very useful for the construction field. Hemp-based thermal insulation products are growing in popularity worldwide and the fiber is also useful for creating fiberboard (sometimes called pressboard), cements, drywall, plaster, and even tile.

There are also numerous products that can be created using the oils from hemp, notably in the food and wellness product sectors. The oil is useful in various products like salad oils, food supplements, and also for things like cosmetics and skin-care products. The hemp seed itself has become a niche ingredient in several food products including snack bars, spreads, bread, and others.

Additional uses for hemp include things line animal bedding, geotextiles used to prevent soil erosion, biomass, essential oils, pesticides and repellents, livestock feed, agricultural barriers, and more.

Getting Ready for Business

Hemp has the potential to eventually become part of a lot of different industry supply chains. The additional research year designation throughout 2020 is expected to allow growers more time to study target markets and identify new opportunities, of which there are likely many. The OISC estimates the first year for commercial production will be 2021.

As more national attention turns to hemp as a viable resource, Indiana is likely to benefit significantly. The climate and soil conditions here are considered ideal for hemp cultivation, giving the state a great position to emerge as a national leader. It’ll be great to see what kind of new developments sprout over the next few years.