Pilot program producers happy with hemp harvest

NEW LEIPZIG, N.D. - Industrial hemp had been banned in the United States for decades before Congress allowed states to set up pilot programs in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Now, the North Dakota Department of Agriculture and NDSU are allowed to regulate hemp-growing, and the state just finished its first harvest season.

Hemp can be used for rope, oil and possibly even medicine. It also lacks THC, the ingredient that gives marijuana users a high.

Now, after trying their hand at the crop, some North Dakota producers want to grow more.

Clarence Laub is pretty happy with his haul of about 5,000 pounds of hemp harvest in 10 acres of land.

"It's a good feeling, a lot of excitement around the state, a lot of excitement around the country. So it's a big deal," says Laub.

Just like any other new crop, there were some growing pains, like trying to get the seed depth right.

"Once it was in the combines, it was a lot better feeling. You know, sitting out there watching it, a lot of uncertainty, didn't know what it was going to do. So it was nice just to get the harvest done and see what you had," says Laub.

In order to grow his crop, Laub needed to adhere to strict policies under the pilot program.

"It's very similar to marijuana and that is a controlled substance and it is not allowed to be grown or cultivated in the United States," says Doug Goehring, ND agriculture Commissioner.

Because of the similar makeup of the crop to marijuana, the crop must be processed in North Dakota before going to market.

"Whoever's processing it needs to make sure the plant is going through a kill step, so to speak, which means it's altered and changed so that you do not have a raw product crossing state lines," says Goehring.

"I hope, if the state allows us to do more acres and stuff, that's definitely something we'll pursue next year," says Laub.

Goehring says he'll decide this winter whether Laub and other farmers will be allowed to grow more hemp next year.

Of the 10 strains tested in the program, Goehring says Canda, which is mostly grown for its fiber, has seemingly fared the best. He also says one of the pilot program's growers out of Carrington will process the state's hemp to prepare it for market. ​