This year was a learning experience for a lot of people in Illinois' fledgling hemp crop. Andy Huston, of Roseville, IL, in Warren County has been in on it from the very beginning. In 2018, he was working in partnership with Western Illinois University to determine what kinds of industrial hemp strains and farming practices might lend themselves to the newest old cash crop in Illinois. In 2019, he harvested his first commercial crop.
During the 1940's industrial hemp was grown in Illinois for rope and canvas for the war effort. Once those markets were no longer viable, farmers returned to corn and beans, more traditional Illinois crops. But the volunteer hemp plant that continued to flourish in the fence rows, orchards and pastures, although often treated as a weed, might have an impact on the genetics of today's plants.
Andy Huston has been actively working on seed production in hemp farming. Seeds from this years crop being marketed to the various needs and qualities of Illinois growing conditions. The hardiness of those wild plants may give plant researchers valuable insight on the traits needed to make Illinois hemp the industry leader.
Huston said during a phone interview, that this Spring was a challenge, with the wet spring conditions. Once the plants were in the ground, and established, insects became the next obstacle, as no precedence is in place regarding herbicides and pesticides and how they impact the plants. Once the plants reached maturity, a new problem arose. There was no proven method in harvesting the plant. Much of the work was done by hand.
Huston said that one of the problems now facing many of the newest growers is that many of them had no idea what to do with the crop once harvested. He actively sought out contracts during the summer growing season, and has secured a market for the crop. the buyer he contracted with has made an effort to buy Illinois plants and keep the product local. The plants he has cultivated are planned for CBD extraction, to be used in medications, with the seeds for future crops. Huston expects that the commercial markets for hemp will expand in the coming growing season, making it easier for growers to get their product to market.