PLATTSMOUTH — A week ago, Annette Wiles made a quick trip to Lafayette, Colorado, to pick up hemp plants from an agricultural biosciences company.
By Saturday, Wiles and other volunteers were planting 288 plants purchased from Front Range Biosciences in the Midwest Hop Producers' Plattsmouth greenhouse. They set 72 plants in each of four varieties in 3-gallon pots.
The plants cost $5 apiece.
"We were very lucky, because the company we bought them from has a minimum of 5,000 plants," said the owner of Midwest Hop Producers.
But she was able to assure the Colorado company it would be one of the first to come into the state with clean plants, and Wiles would share her business' research with the company. Front Range agreed to sell the smaller amount, and has been supportive, Wiles said.
Midwest Hop Producers was one of 10 growers to be randomly selected to participate in the first year of the state's Hemp Cultivation/Processing Research Program, established by a bill (LB657) passed by the Nebraska Legislature and signed into law this spring by Gov. Pete Ricketts.
When Wiles and her husband, Bruce, knew the opportunity could come about, they started researching hemp plants and how to grow them, consulting with growers in Colorado and Illinois.
"We learned a lot of lessons with hops that we'll be able to bring over to what we're doing with hemp," Annette Wiles said.
When they were told they were selected for a licensing agreement, the Wileses called up University of Nebraska-Lincoln Agronomy Professor Ismail Dweikat, one of Nebraska's hemp experts who has been doing research on the cannabis plant for at least five years.
Tuesday, Wiles and her family gave a tour of their young hemp research operation to reporters.
In this late-summer growing season, they were lucky to have a large greenhouse they have used for their hops operations, she told them.
In the greenhouse, they can control the growing and the light. The plants are getting about 20 hours of light these days, down from 24 hours when first planted. Under ideal, mostly in-the-field growing conditions, these plants could reach 10 feet tall.
The varieties they chose from Front Range were Hybrid #9, described as a "fan favorite;" Cherry 2.0, based on a "connoisseur hemp;" Hemp Cultivar #5, also a Front Range favorite; and Early Pearly, the biosciences company's "terpiest."
Plant terpenes are chemicals that determine how a plant smells, such as the distinct smells in oranges, pine trees and lavender.
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A couple of the varieties have not yet been released to the public, Annette Wiles said.
Saturday, her mother, Irene Palma, had the honor of setting the ceremonial first hemp plant in the family operation.
"Mom and Dad help out a lot around here, doing whatever they can," she said.
The university's Dweikat said Nebraska has some advantages over other states with a lot of land on which to grow hemp. If the market is there, the state's farmers could benefit from this alternative crop, he said.
And although many products can come from hemp plants, CBD oils are the most profitable.
The highest concentration of CBD oil is in the buds, which will be ready in a couple of months, he said. The higher concentration, the more money growers can get for the crop. He speculated that grown outside under ideal conditions, with high CBD, crops could yield up to $100,000 an acre.
"So there is a huge potential for the farmers in Nebraska ... to start growing hemp for CBD," he said. "I am excited to see the first legal hemp farming in Nebraska here."
The Wileses had been growing corn and beans, but there's not a lot of money in those crops today, Annette Wiles said. That's why they looked into alternative, specialty crops, such as hops, and now hemp.
The research they are doing on their farm includes trials on setting single, double and triple plants, and pruning techniques.
Annette Wiles and Dweikat said they would like to see the state step slowly into the hemp business. By next year, if Dweikat had a say, he would allow only one hemp farmer per county, he said, and the year after, only two per county.
Markets and processing plants need to be established, he said.
Annette Wiles said if the state had opened this up to hundreds of farmers the first year, it would not have had the infrastructure or processing in place. It's an expensive venture for growers.
"The slower we do it, the guaranteed success we're going to have," Dweikat said. "If we're just going to open it up, and everybody starts growing it, it's going to be a mess."