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Know before you grow

By Staff | May 7, 2020



The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship have issued its first round of hemp licenses and seed permits for the 2020 growing season.

As of last week, 17 hemp licenses and even more seed permits have been approved for the 2020 growing season since hemp became legal to possess in Iowa on April 8, according to Robin Pruisner, state entomologist, hemp administrator and ag security coordinator for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

The numbers of licenses and seed permits, Pruisner said keep on growing. So far, applicants can expect their approval in less than two weeks, but the process has been affected with the COVID-19 pandemic, however.

“We have to send fingerprints to DCI, they get them to FBI for a background check, but oddly enough, because of COVID, a lot of fingerprinting and background checks are not happening,” she said. “So, it’s actually getting turned around in the most incredible timeframe.”

Pruisner said when COVID restrictions lighten, they expect for those agencies to be inundated with background checks.

Also, many local law enforcement are not doing finger printing at this point, however, there is a private entity in Johnston that is recognized by the FBI that is still open for fingerprinting at this time. Pruisner said Iowa applicants and applicants from other states are utilizing that service if required.

“If you intend to apply, don’t dawdle,” Pruisner said adding the deadline for license applications for outdoor hemp crops is May 15.

Applying for a permit to sell hemp seed

Before selling, distributing, advertising, soliciting orders, offering, or exposing hemp seed for sale in Iowa, a retailer must obtain a seed permit from IDALS.

“In Iowa, if you are selling agricultural seeds, you need to have a seed permit and then there are labeling requirements and it’s all about consumer protection for the people buying the seed,” said Pruisner. “Hemp seed is considered an agricultural seed, so those folks are held to the same standards as your seed corn people are held to in terms of selling good, quality seed, properly labeling and the recordkeeping they need to do.”

Who actually needs a license, Pruisner further explained, is the entity who has the name on what they call the “bag and the tag.”

“A great example is Deklab. It’s Dekalb that holds the license, not the farmer/dealer- not John Brown that is dealing it. If somebody is wholesaling or retailing that seed they don’t need the license. Just whosever name that bagged it.”

Applying for a hemp license

All individuals associated with the hemp production operation must be listed on the hemp license application and must submit their fingerprints for a background check. Interested growers can request a fingerprint card at 515 725 1470 or hemp@iowaagriculture.gov. A license cannot be issued until all applicants associated with the hemp license pass the background check.

Pruisner said a hemp license, is for growing hemp – whether that is an indoor or outdoor grow.

The deadline for outdoor grow hemp licenses is May 15. An indoor grow, that produces year around has no deadline for application.

“We put a deadline in there based on experience of other states and sometimes when background checks can take a long time, it is not wise to someone to come in at the last second wanting a license,” she said. “The process is going to take too long for them to have an adequate field season.”

Is there a market for hemp?

“The first thing I tell people is they need to decide what their end product is before they grow it, which is backwards from what we are accustomed to,” said Pruisner. “Here in Iowa, we are accustomed to corn and soybeans. The end use you don’t necessarily know up front. With hemp, you have to decide between four or five crops. That’s grain, seed, fiber, cannabidiol, or what people call CBD, and smokeable.”

There are also some different ways hemp is raised depending on its end use.

According Pruisner if you are going to grow hemp for grain, seed or fiber, you direct seed it and have both male and female plants. If it is being raised for cannabidiol, you don’t utilize the male plants – it’s a female plant only crop.

“What we do is, we talk people through this. It’s complex,” she said. “By biggest recommendation is, this is not a crop to speculate on. You really need to have a contract for selling it before you plant it. Your buyer may want you to raise it in a certain way, plant a certain variety, dry it a certain way. You need to know that before you get into it.”

Currently it is not legal to process cannabidiol in the state of Iowa. Pruisner said there is a bill in the legislature. Once they are back in session, it needs to pass the senate and then be signed by the governor.

“So, if you are wanting to raise cannabidiol right now, your best bet is you need to find those buyers out of state,” she said. “Many of our surrounding states have processors that are actively processing and hopefully soon we are going to have that same thing here in the state of Iowa.”

Pruisner said she gets asked quite frequently about growing hemp for fiber.

“I think it would be the easiest to grow. Kind of like your warmup hemp crop,” she said. “The problem is there are just not many buyers. I compare it to cellulosic ethanol. Around a cellulosic ethanol plant they draw a circle. They know you can only afford to haul the stuff so far and until we start getting fiber plants near us, I don’t think it’s going to be economical for people to grow fiber.”

Currently, producers in the United States are already raising more hemp than what is being used.

“In 2019 we had a huge hemp year in the United States. Depending on who you talk to, some people estimate that we grew 500% more hemp in 2019 than we did in 2018,” she said. “There is a substantial portion of last year’s crop still on hold. Our supply chains are pretty full right now. I really warn people you don’t want to grow it just to see if you can sell it later on. There are people still trying to sell last year’s crop. We are really trying to promote that idea of don’t speculate.”

If a market could be developed, Pruisner feels hemp growers in Iowa could be successful.

“Iowa’s goal is to grow it the best, and make it profitable for our growers and make it a good product for our consumers,” she said. “So that is our eye on the long-term.”

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