The recent legalization of industrialized hemp has opened the door to a whole new way of harvesting Iowa.
Allan Richards, a lawyer from Tama, has received a license to grow industrial hemp and started planting.
"It's a new market in Iowa." Richards said. "I try to walk with the river and learn from it."
Richards and Iowa officials learn about hemp cultivation since the harvest has not been legally planted in decades.
"The licensing process only started early this spring. My license was completed in early May." he said. "It's like a garden and plants."
Iowa has several restrictions: farmers are only allowed to grow 40 acres of hemp, and a law recently passed in Iowa's law earlier this year says it must not be fed or smoked to animals. There can only be 0.3 percent THC, an intoxicating chemical.
"When it rises above, they call the plant marijuana" Richards said.
Industrial hemp is used for its fibers, oil, grain and a variety of other different things.
Richards runs American Green Farms, where he grows industrial hemp.
"It has been illegal for so long and it is a new industry." Richards said. With a "steep learning curve."
Migrant workers have experience and can help farmers grow hemp, he said.
"We have to have migrant workers" Richard said.
He first applied for the license so that he could go outside and watch the development of a new industry from the inside.
He plans to plant a new hemp crop every year.
"I try to do everything right, from seed labeling to product shipping." Richard said. "The seeds are the key."
It's been 30 years since something grew on Richard's farmland. When he grew up, hemp went wild "Like a jungle."
"It grows fairly easily" he said. "Now the key is growing and seeing where autumn's manufacturing and production is going."
Richards has worked in agriculture throughout his career as he focused on agricultural law.
"I ran a farm in 1975 and have been a lawyer ever since." he said. "This is a plant, you plant a corn seed, you grow corn, you plant a hemp seed, you grow hemp."
Richards walks a tightrope while growing hemp because a slight change in the chemical composition of the plant could make it illegal.
"It's like your corn is suddenly too sweet. We call it sugar." he said.
In 2018, the U.S. Congress passed a new farm law that included permits for industrial hemp production. Since then, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has worked with states to begin production.
The establishment of hemp as a regulated commodity paves the way for U.S. hemp farmers to participate in other USDA farm programs.
In 2019, the USDA published hemp production rules that included requirements such as the Richards license.
In April, Iowa's hemp growing plan was approved by the USDA.
"We know that farmers are looking for new opportunities, and this milestone means that they are one step closer to the possibility of growing hemp during the 2020 growing season." Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said.
Richards fears that only large industrial companies will be allowed to receive licenses in the future.
"I expect it will be very political, much like in the gaming industry." he said. "You will give these licenses to the big boys."
For the time being, Richards was able to grow hemp in 2020, but his harvest has to be sold from the state.
"Hopefully the state of Iowa will allow me to continue," he said. he said.
Contact Thomas Nelson at 641-753-6611
Contributed photo Hemp seedlings Allan Richards is preparing to grow in Tama.
Contributed Photos –
Holes dug for the upcoming hemp seedlings Allan Richards becomes one of the first hemp crops in Iowa.
Latest news and more in your inbox