Hemp: Bigger than corn and soybeans? Illinois on the cusp of adding what could be a third major crash crop

December 29, 2018

ROSEVILLE — Hemp could be the next big cash crop in Illinois, according to a farmer who was among the first to grow the plant in the state after it became legal this year.

Hemp comes from the same plant as marijuana but doesn’t contain THC, the compound that causes a high. Hemp can be turned into clothing, textiles, building materials, paper and food.

Illinois lawmakers authorized hemp production in the state this year. A new federal farm bill signed this month legalized the plant’s production nationwide. The move will give hemp farmers access to interstate commerce, crop insurance, standard business loans and tax deductions, giving the hemp industry an advantage over medical marijuana, which remains illegal under federal law.

Andy Huston was among the first to grow hemp in Illinois on his Roseville-area farm. He told the Chicago Tribune that he believes the crop could be more profitable than corn and soybeans once farmers learn how to raise and sell it.

“There’s going to be tons of offshoot businesses that will come out of this,” Huston said.

A rural Princeton woman was instrumental in getting hemp legalized. Rachel Berry has done advocacy work for 2 years, educating people about the industry and lobbying the state Legislature.

Berry started the Illinois Hemp Growers Association, and through that organization is working toward her next important goal.

“I want to get funding for a community hemp mill, because I want hemp to be available to everyone locally so they can incorporate it into their lives,” Berry said.

Berry will be one of the guest speakers at the Hemp, Hops and Holism Ag Summit, planned from 8 a.m. to noon Jan. 26 at Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon. Her hemp mill plans and how people can get involved will be part of her presentation.

There are more than 25,000 uses for hemp. Berry is most interested in fiber and seeds for animal feed, but she is also certified in the use of hemp in construction – and not just for housing livestock.

“I want to build hemp homes – in Europe, there are entire hemp apartment complexes,” Berry said. “Hemp is resistant to mold, pests and fire.”

About 150 people have expressed interest in growing hemp, said Jeff Cox, chief of the Bureau of Medicinal Plants at the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Cox expects that number to increase once the state finalizes its rules, which could happen in April following a 90-day public comment period.

Farmers are eager to get the rules in place so they can begin buying hemp seeds, said Liz Moran Stelk, executive director of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, a pro-farming group that lobbied for the crop’s legalization.

“There’s going to be way more competition in 2020,” Stelk said. “It’s urgent to get the licensing done in time for spring planting.”

Hemp generated $820 million in U.S. sales in 2017, although most of the product was imported, according to the Hemp Business Journal.

Hemp could grow to a nearly $2 billion industry by 2022 as production increases in the U.S., the journal said.

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