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Native American owned farm one of the 1st to grow hemp

Posted at 10:13 PM, Jul 25, 2019

WINNEBAGO, Neb. (KMTV) — A scenic farm in Thurston County is about to add a new crop to their fields. One that hasn't been grown legally in the state for some time. Hemp.

"We see that it's a new young industry that has tons of potential. Commodity markets ain't great right now, so the more we diversify, the better sustainability there,” says Aaron LaPointe, ag business manager at Ho-Chunk Farms.

Aaron LaPointe is the ag business manager at Ho-Chunk farms. It's owned and run by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.

The state kicked off its hemp pilot program this year. 176 applied, 10 got accepted, including Ho-Chunk Farms.

LaPointe says growing the plant that can be made into CBD oil, rope, clothes and more, was a no brainer.

"It uses less water, less inputs and it's much easier to grow. It almost has its own ways of controlling weeds because really it's an invasive plant,” says LaPointe.

They were just licensed by the state last week and will plant the crop as soon as this weekend, harvesting it by October.

But, this year is a bit of a test case.

They don't plan to make a lot of money, but are collecting data: best ways to grow it, where to sell it. Setting themselves up to launch a larger scale operation in 2020 and beyond.

"Every hemp producer I've ever talked to says they've learned something every day about hemp and have been doing it for years, so we know it's going to be a learning curve for us,” says LaPointe.

The tribal community college just built a new ag extension building that will partially be used for researching the hemp Ho-Chunk grows.

"They're going to help with a lot of the research and data collection. It'll help advance our college as well,” says LaPointe.

If and when Ho-Chunk begins making money off hemp, the Winnebago community will likely reap some of the rewards.

"So with us being able to utilize another new young industry to develop new revenues for our company is only going to benefit the tribe and our community in Winnebago, Nebraska."

The tribe likely won't need a state license next year and plans to self-regulate instead, something allowed in the most recent farm bill.

Unlike other businesses, Ho-Chunk doesn't plan on keeping the information they learn on hemp a secret, they want to share it with other tribes that plan on growing hemp as well.