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Hemp farming slow to get off ground in Nebraska

Posted at 10:16 PM, Jul 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-11 23:16:43-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — While hemp is now legal, it's heavily regulated by the state since it is derived from the marijuana plant. That's why farmers had to apply to grow it and 176 did just that. But it's unclear how many got approved, and if there's even enough time to plant it this year.

"We've lost a lot of equity, we've lost a lot of cash, we've lost of farmers, and so we're aggressively looking at all kinds of ways to bring additional revenue to farm and ranch families,” says John Hansen, President of the Nebraska Farmers Union.

John Hansen has pushed hemp for well over a decade, seeing it as another option for farmers to plant, along with corn and soybeans.

"I think there's a need for a profitable crop period,” says Hansen.

Hansen and many in the ag industry were elated when almost 90 percent of the legislature voted to legalize the plant in late May. They hoped the state would work quickly on setting up the regulations before opening up the application process.

"I was a little bit surprised it took this long to roll it out,” says Hansen.

After a weeklong window, 176 applied, with the state selecting a random number for licenses, but it's unclear how many got them.

In an email the department of ag didn't give specifics, saying a limited number got approved and they'll make the list public once agreements are made with the producers.

So now in the middle of July, it doesn't appear that those who got licenses, can even plant hemp yet, with the window for 2019 closing quickly.

"We're probably over the time to be able to plant the crops this year and have a productive crop for harvest,” says farmer, Graham Christensen.

Christensen was denied a license this year to plant hemp on his family farm in Oakland, Nebraska. He wants the crop because it's environmentally friendly, good for his soil, and has a number of uses, such as for CBD oil, rope and clothes.

"It definitely meets our farm's goals to help people live better lives and helps our farm become more environmentally friendly,” says Christensen.

Christensen's optimistic he'll get approved next year, when it's believed the state will fully open up the process and allow more growers. But if a large number of farmers apply in 2020 and the state only takes a few, it's safe to say they'll be some unhappy farmers.

"If that happens, there will be trouble,” says Christensen.

Hansen also says hemp doesn't only have potential for farmers but could help create jobs for Nebraskans as he hopes processing plants will open to turn hemp into different types of consumer products.