Jefferson County Commissioners held their first meeting of 2019 on Thurs., Jan. 3, and one of the items on the agenda was LB617, the Adopt the Industrial Hemp Act.
In 2018, President Donald Trump signed a farm bill that legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp. The fiber of hemp is a non-intoxicating derivative of the cannabis plant and can be used to make a variety of products, such as cardboard, carpets, clothes, paper, plastics, cement and even beer. The farm bill deals only with industrial hemp and does not legalize medicinal or recreational marijuana.
LB617 was first introduced by Justin T. Wayne of the Nebraska State Senate on Jan. 18, 2017 and states, in part, “The purpose of the Industrial Hemp Act is to assist the State of Nebraska in moving to the forefront of industrial hemp production, development, and commercialization of hemp products in agribusiness, alternative fuel production, and other business sectors, both nationally and globally and to the greatest extent possible.”
Jim Fraeger was on hand to explain to the Council, “Trump signed it (the farm bill), which means that now you can grow industrial hemp in the State of Nebraska, farmers can, and I’m for the farmers because they’re having kind of a rough time right now.”
“This thing is really exciting for the farmers, I think.” Fraeger said. “They say that, possibly, farm income could be more than three times per acre what it is now with corn. And another factor is that if we start growing hemp on the farm, and don’t grow corn, what’s that do to the corn prices? Corn prices will come up because of supply and demand.”
There are, however, certain obstacles that will have to be overcome before hemp can be grown commercially in Nebraska. One major stumbling block is the opposition of law enforcement, who will be responsible for ensuring that farmers are growing and shipping legal hemp and not marijuana.
Hemp and marijuana are both species of cannabis but they are not the same thing. The leaves look similar enough that a close up inspection may be required to tell the difference. Fraeger explained that a solution to this problem is currently in the works. Breeders are attempting to create a strain of hemp with more obviously different leaves.
Fraeger said of the new plant. “It’s yellow and it’s got a different kind of leaf.”
According to Fraeger, the other major issue is, “We have to have a processing plant.”
Fraeger estimated such a plant would employ approximately 20 people. “I’ve talked to the Co-op and they’re interested.”
“North Carolina, down near spring Hope, they just put one in,” Fraeger said. “It’s a 70,000 square foot building and it’s got a 60-foot silo and they process the seed.”
Hemp is a very hardy plant. Gale Pohlmann asked if hemp was “very drought tolerant.”
“Oh, yes. Drought tolerant. Doesn’t take a lot of water. Also insects don’t bother it, so you don’t have to spray it.”
Fraeger said, “There’s tremendous potential.”