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NDSU Moves Toward Starting Industrial Hemp Research in 2008

Herb Fellow

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North Dakota State University may begin planting industrial hemp seed next spring to fulfill a 1999 Legislative mandate, says a university official.

The land grant university has been waiting on the Drug Enforcement Adminis-tration (DEA) to approve its application to conduct hemp and hemp seed research for North Dakota farmers since then.

The DEA finally acted on the application last month within days after a federal judge admonished the agency for its non-action. That rebuff was part of a lawsuit judgement that went against two North Dakota farmers who wanted to grow industrial hemp.

NDSU Vice President for Agriculture and University Extension, Dr. D.C. Coston, said he has been part of continuing discussions on the decision they received from the DEA.

"If everything seems reasonable (with DEA) we quite likely will do it (begin research)," said Coston.

He added that some of the requirements NDSU would have to agree to include:


- a limit of two acres of land could be used for research and there would need to be a border around the inside of the fence and another area inside that, limiting the growing acres significantly.

- 24-hour security including a 10-foot high razor fence and high-powered illumination.

- an accounting for all material that NDSU uses in the growing process and all the material the university generates and harvests as a result.


- allowing for inspection by the DEA at any time without notice.

Coston said there have already been discussions about where they could find funding to build the industrial hemp facilities. Costs could hover in the $50,000 range to meet all the DEA requirements.

"There's going to be significant expenses involved," he said. "We do have some ideas about where we could go (to ask for funds)."

He added they may ask the N.D. Legislature for help in the next session in 2009, but the university would like to get the research going before then.

"At least we'd want to have the facility built and ready to go in 2008," Coston said. "I can't imagine that the DEA would not want to come out and inspect it before we plant."

However, there could be a possibility of planting seed next year. Coston said NDSU is looking at procuring seed - at least initially - from Canada.

"Things growing well in Manitoba have a pretty good chance of growing well here," he said. "We're not sure, however, how the seed industry works up there."

NDSU officials would work with the DEA and various resources in Canada on procuring seed.

"We do indeed have relationships with Ag Canada and other sectors in Canada, both private and public," Coston said, adding they work all the time with other government agencies and public and private companies around the world.

In addition, state Rep. Dave Monson, one of the North Dakota producers in the industrial hemp lawsuit who has sponsored Legislative bills to advance hemp farming in the state, said there is also a biologist's seed collection that could be used if he is hired as a consultant.

Dr. Paul Mahlberg had conducted industrial hemp research during his tenure at Indiana State University. He is now retired but still holds a license to do research, Monson added.

In past discussions with Mahlberg, the plant biologist said he would be willing to bring his significant industrial hemp seed collection with him if he consulted with NDSU.

"He said he'd be willing to help NDSU do some research and help in any way he could," Monson said.

Regarding the hemp lawsuit that was dismissed last month, Monson said he didn't really expect it to go their way based on the judge's comments during the hearing Nov. 14.

"But I was happy to see the inclusion in the ruling that he wants NDSU to move forward (with industrial hemp research)," he added.

Monson said he doubted there was enough time for NDSU to get the seed in the ground in 2008, but "at least we have some hope."

He said back in 1999, the first thing the state mandated NDSU to undertake was a research paper on industrial hemp.

"We wanted them to do a study, what we call a white paper, on the crop to see if it was a crop we could raise feasibly and see if it could be grown here," Monson said. "NDSU did that and the results were quite positive. And that's when we really got on the bandwagon."

He said the university contacted Canada for some of the research and found out it was an economically viable crop that could be grown in the northern regions.

The next thing the Legislature mandated was for NDSU to apply to DEA to do industrial hemp research, he said. Then, they wanted NDSU to begin research with seeds purchased from Canada, and after that, get feral seeds growing within North Dakota (called ditch weed growing from World War II) and save some of that genetic material.

"If it met the guidelines, then we wanted NDSU to cross it and make varieties, so down the road, there would be enough seed for North Dakota farmers," Monson said. The reason behind that is because the DEA doesn't want Canadian seed to be used for the long term because of control issues.

He added in the last couple of Legislative sessions, they provided funding for some new greenhouses at NDSU that could be used for research.

"But this is a land grant university, and they'd like to be able to put the seed into the ground as if it were a crop," Monson said. "It could however be done inside (initially) and we expect it will be a small project at first."

He added legislators will look at finding some additional funding in the next session for the NDSU research, such as for hiring Mahlberg as a consultant.

Monson continues to believe industrial hemp will become an important alternative, rotational - and economic - crop in North Dakota.

"We talked (in Legislative sessions) about putting money into the budget (for hemp research), but since NDSU had never received any notice from the DEA, we thought it was better used someplace else in the meantime," Monson said.

The other farmer involved in the lawsuit, Wayne Hauge of Ray, N.D., mirrored Monson's thoughts on industrial hemp as one of the most promising crops of the future in the state.

Hauge said he recently returned from a hemp conference in Saskatoon, Sask., (Canada Hemp Trade Alliance's National Hemp Conference) and found out new products that hemp can be processed into. He also heard from many experts on breeding programs, variety trials, fertilization and fertility rates, fiber research and product development.

One of the newest products is a highly-nutritious hemp milk, according to Hauge. He said that protein needed for growth is easily digestible in the milk because hemp does not contain inhibitors that can block absorption.

He also found out that there is a three-week period after the hemp plant sets up root that it just "sits there" and doesn't grow above ground. Any weeds that are in the ground could establish themselves during this period, and will need to be controlled with broadleaf herbicides. After the plant is grown, it is tall enough to crowd out any weeds.

Hauge also learned about fertility rates and the different needs for nitrogen and phosphorus.

"We also heard that army worms have been bad in hemp this year," Hauge said. "Hemp tastes good to them."

If he is able to plant industrial hemp next spring, Hauge said he plans on purchasing Finola hemp seed from Saskatchewan.

"It's a shorter variety, about 6-foot tall," he added.

Shorter is better because the straw is known to plug up combines. Hauge said he would harvest the straw because he would have to use a header that was raised 4-feet in the air, and he wanted to recoup something from all that work.

"I'll take off the straw. It's a secondary cash market."

Arthur Hanks, Saskatchewan Hemp Alliance general manager, said they were glad to have Hauge at their conference, adding there were many discussions about hemp processing plants.

HT Naturals, a Vancouver company, has developed a proprietary method that produces three different grades of hemp fiber from the stalks, Hanks said. The first grade is for yarn, the second for sports body armor long-lasting clothing, and the third is for industrial uses.

Hauge said the stalks turn into a "type of goo" where the different fibers are then extracted.

The company also combines the stalks with enzymes in a "batik" process which dyes the fibers for uniform color.

"We're only a 10-year old industry in Canada. Basically we started from zero," Hanks said. "But there's a lot of interest in the research community to develop the fibers."

He added that the flax and hemp researchers were working together because there were some similarities between the two.

However, Hauge hopes that North Dakota could start its own processing plant.

"One of the biggest expenses is transportation," Hauge said. "You can't truck it 500 to 1,000 miles (after it's harvested). It would eat into the profits," Hauge said. "Industrial hemp is the same as any other business."

On his own farm, Hauge said he has made plans for next growing season which don't include industrial hemp at this time, although those plans could change.

He plans to grow malting barley, durum, lentils and chickpeas in spring 2008. Some of his malting barley is contracted with the local elevator, but he doesn't contract durum as there is no "Act of God" clause.

"I've got my own seed cleaned and processed," Hauge said. "I'm in pretty good shape for next year.

"If the price goes up, I would contract some more malting barley," he added.

He has been a selective seed grower for barley and black bean and this year, he has applied to be a grower for a "new pinto bean."

He also sold some lentils this week for a "pretty good" price of 22-23 cents a pound.

On Monson's farm, there aren't any spring plans set in stone yet.

Monson said he doesn't really have the acreage to plan alternative crops other than his usual wheat, barley and canola. His 700 acres is divided into a third of each crop.

"I bought some canola seed and cleaned up some of my own barley seed," he added.

At NDSU, Coston said the university's goal with industrial hemp is "to move the research forward."

"We're all about trying to help North Dakota advance existing opportunities and ideally, advance some new ones," Coston said. "This (industrial hemp research) will be interesting to see. People depend on us to be objective in our research, to tell them 'yes, it will work,' or 'no, it won't work', and that's what we will do in this case."

Source: The Prairie Star
Copyright: 2007 The Prairie Star
Contact: SUE ROESLER, Farm & Ranch Guide
Website: The Prairie Star: Montana Ag Newspaper
 
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