By JOHN L. BELDEN
MONROVIA, Ind. — The Indiana Hemp Industries Assoc. (INHIA) celebrated the eighth annual nationwide Hemp History Week with a June 5 dinner at Monrovia’s Main Street Grill.
The event was co-sponsored by the Indiana Farmers Union and featured remarks by Dr. Ron Turco of Purdue University and Connie Neininger of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA).
INHIA founder and director of strategy Jamie Petty welcomed all to the first of what she hopes to be many such events. “We hope this will start, perhaps quarterly,” Petty said, “so we will have friendship and relationships to help move things forward.”
Her goal, she said, is “to bring people together, keep people working, collaborating and finding ways to take action. A lot is going on in this state.”
With hemp production for research authorized by the 2014 federal Farm Bill, the Indiana General Assembly adopted its Industrial Hemp Law (IC15-15-13), signed by Then-Gov.
Mike Pence, in 2014 and granted a permit to Purdue, which grew its first plants in 2015. Hemp is differentiated from marijuana by its low level of the drug THC (.3 percent or less) and is useful for fiber, food and oil.
“We are still very active in ‘hemp world,’ as we call it,” Turco said of the Purdue Hemp Project (purduehemp.org). “We have fields at our farm at West Lafayette as well as two other farms in the state of Indiana. It doesn’t seem like much; but for us, it’s a big jump to get it somewhere else besides Purdue property.”
Expanded involvement in the project does have its limits. “We have a pathway for people who want to grow,” he said, “if they can work with us and our research structure. The problem is that I can’t work with everybody who wants to grow. It’s not an expandable model. We need to change the framework under how we advance hemp in Indiana.”
Purdue is researching the practical matters of hemp cultivation. “One of our goals this year is to look at seasonal issues with planting dates,” Turco said. “It’s a basic question: How soon can you get it in the ground, and how does that affect production? We see how it fits into corn-soybean rotations and other kind of nuanced things in agriculture.”
He noted that an April planting had done surprisingly well, having started before the planting dates for corn and soybeans. The last planting is planned for this month, he said, with a public Field Day in West Lafayette planned for the end of July, with exact date and details yet to be announced.
Turco said Purdue is collaborating with the University of Kentucky and Colorado State University.
“The Colorado State part is interesting to us because we work with a company called New West Genetics, which is one of the first hemp-breeding companies in the United States,” he said. “We have been involved to advance genetics on U.S. hemp, as opposed to Canadian or European.”
Turco said availability of quality hemp seed would be the primary obstacle once legal barriers to production fall. A bill was introduced this year in the House of Representatives (HR 715) that would deschedule cannabis (presently Schedule 1, on par with highly addictive drugs).
“If they de-scheduled tomorrow, seed would be the biggest limiter,” Turco said. “It’s 30 pounds of seed per acre, and that’s a lot of seed in a big operation. “We don’t have a certified seed program in Indiana for hemp,” he added. “They do in Kentucky, and they do in Colorado.
That’s why I like working with those two states, because they’re very regulated in terms of quality of seed. We need a program here on that, and I think Indiana could become a good seed supply source for the rest of the Midwest if we gamed it right.”
INHIA board member Justin Swanson of the Bose McKinney Public Affairs Group reported on his work on behalf of hemp interests at the Statehouse. “I think we’ve come a long way,” Swanson said. “I remember a few years ago, I’d walk into a room and try to have a conversation about industrial hemp, and 95 percent of it was about marijuana. Now I think we’re at the point where lawmakers understand there’s a distinct difference between marijuana and hemp, and their uses.”
The 2016 session’s legislative priority was transportation funding, he said, “So hemp didn’t get a lot of attention this year, unfortunately. Next year, Dr. Turco and I will have some strategic meetings to educate the folks that need to know what’s going on, and what we want to do.”
The main legislative goal is to find a better home for the Indiana’s industrial hemp program. “It’s now with the State Chemist’s office,” Swanson said. “In my opinion, they didn’t know what to do with this program when they passed it, so put it over there.” What is preferable would be “an agency that can help promote the industry, connect the growers with the end users.”
There is already a market for hemp in the state. “We have Indiana companies now importing hemp, hundreds of thousands of pounds of it a week,” Swanson said.
“Up in Elkhart County is a company called FlexForm that contracts with high-end car manufacturers, Mercedes and BMWs. This company is actually requesting natural fiber to be used in door panels of the cars – they don’t want fiberglass, they want natural fiber such as hemp.”
Unfortunately, in Indiana, he added, “You can import all you want, you just can’t grow it.”
Sherri Dugger of the Indiana Farmers Union said, “What we’re doing here in sponsoring this event – in trying to promote hemp and having industrial hemp grow in Indiana – is to promote diverse agriculture in this state. There’s not just corn and soybeans in Indiana, and we want people to know that.”
Dugger and Petty announced that enough interested members had joined the IFU to form a hemp chapter. “This is essentially what our union is about,” Dugger said. “It’s about bringing people together, about giving power to the people, so they can make a difference in their community.”
Neininger spoke mainly to promote the Indiana Grown initiative, involving all aspects of agricultural business, approaching 800 members stateweide.
She sees hemp as part of the overall picture. “What we see happening within the Indiana Hemp Assoc., with Purdue University,” Neininger said, “we know we have to continue to work towards opportunities to grow Indiana industry.”
The crowd of around 50 people enjoyed a dinner that featured hemp as an ingredient, including in a hummus served with hempseed chips and in a cilantrohemp aoli served on sweet potatoes. All other ingredients, including vegetables and meats, were locally sourced. Petty was pleased with the turnout and organizations involved in the event.
“Indiana Farmers Union, Indiana Hemp Industry Assoc. and Indiana Grown – ultimately, they dovetail,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s Hoosiers helping Hoosiers.”
For more information: visit INHIA at inhia.org and IFU at www.indianafarmersunion.org as well as Indiana Grown at www.indianagrown.org