TORRINGTON – While other areas in the state have seen multiple booms, busts and re-booms in the energy industry, in agriculture and in other industries, Eastern Wyoming – which has no real energy development to speak of, and where agriculture has become a break-even proposition for many – good news has been scarce.
But at the Goshen County Hemp Summit on Friday, there were inklings that perhaps some good news could be coming to the southeast corner of the state.
The summit, which was hosted by the Goshen County Economic Development Corporation and Eastern Wyoming College, provided local producers and potential investors with a look at the legal side of the potential cash crop, as well as the agricultural and processing pieces that would be crucial to turn the tide in Goshen County’s favor.
Hemp was regulated the same as another cannabis sativa cultivar, marijuana, until the 2018 Farm Bill reclassified hemp as an agricultural product. Hemp has thousands of uses, according to its proponents, but its close relation to marijuana will require rigorous testing and regulation by the WDA and USDA.
Doug Miyamoto, director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, told the assembly that it may be possible to have a growing season in Wyoming in 2020. The WDA submitted its hemp regulation plan to the United States Department of Agriculture in April 2019, and revised it when the USDA released its interim final regulations in October 2019.
On Friday, Miyamoto said his department plans to resubmit the Wyoming plan this week, and expects to hear from the USDA within 60 days.
“We’re trying to launch a program for a crop that hasn’t been grown in the United States for decades,” he said. “In trying to evaluate a regulatory program that will stand up as if you’re trying to treat it as a normal agricultural commodity, which you should.
“The demands are that you have to track that product, and that you have to sample and analyze that product, as you would a schedule one narcotic. That’s a very complex process in today’s world. That has been a challenge not just for us, but for USDA and all of our counterparts across the country, to take that working out of the 2018 Farm Bill and codify hemp as a normal agricultural product with a lot of asterisks behind it.”
While farmers are eagerly awaiting the approval of a new potential cash crop, Miyamoto said the hemp regulation process has been a quick one, by government standards.
“I’ve never seen anything like this move faster than this one has,” he said. “This one has been very unique because it’s the first time we’ve had the USDA and state departments of agriculture from all over the county faced with developing a brand-new crop and bringing it into the realm of a regulatory setting.
“Our plan is to have our plan at the USDA by this time next week. At this point in time, all of our draft plan has been through the review process with us, and we’ve also had comments from the attorney general’s office that we’re working to build into our plan now. That may seem like quite a bit of delay, but if you consider the final interim regulations came out at the end of October, for anything in government to be able to go from that point to here as quickly, I would say it’s on pace or ahead from the practices that we undertake.”
But producers should still be cautious, according to Jason Loeffler, a crop consultant and hemp grower with Green Tree Ag. During the summit, Loeffler offered his perspectives from growing hemp in Colorado in 2019. He said the crop will grow here – but farmers need to be aware the hemp industry is new and the processing infrastructure doesn’t exist at this time. He cited several examples of farmers who attempted to dive into the industry and be ahead of the curve – but wound up with heartbreaking results.
“Ninety-eight percent of the problem right now is that there is nowhere to go with this crop,” he said. “It’s not because you guys can’t grow it – there are no processors, or textile mills, or anything like that.
“When the Farm Bill was passed, there were 550,000 acres planted last year. There were delusions of grandeur. I’m going to plant this, and somebody is going to walk right on my farm and buy that plant right off my hands. I talked to a farmer last week in North Carolina, who had 27 percent CBD and a bunch of CBG in it – a beautiful crop. He can’t give it away. There was a brother combo out of Oregon that sunk their entire life savings into 100 acres. They grew it, they babied it and they put everything they had into it – they baled it. They lost it, and they offed themselves.”
With patience, though, hemp could represent and agricultural revolution. Loeffler told the assembly that once the infrastructure is in place, it could bring about major changes in agricultural business.
“What I’m saying is don’t grow wheat anymore,” he said. “Wheat doesn’t produce you anything. You can do fiber, or grains – when this thing comes down the pipeline, I’m putting that in. Maybe even the barley market – I can tell beer companies to stick it and I could start doing this.
“Those contracts suck, and if Western Sugar doesn’t pull their head out, I’d put fiber in as well. This is an agriculture phenomenon that we need to be embracing because we’re tired of being kicked around by everybody who is controlling these markets. If we can have the infrastructure, we have the producers in this state to suffice those industries.”