Nebraska Hemp

In this 2013 file photo, a woman stands in a hemp field at a farm in Springfield, Colo. 

Roughly six decades after Nebraska’s last industrial hemp crop was harvested, its newest, comprised of heirloom plants, was planted in a field outside Giltner.

The only problem? The farmers who sowed it may have done so outside the law.

Despite the passage of a bill to legalize and regulate hemp production earlier this year, only the former has been completed. This newly permitted cash crop offers potential to interested farmers, but the 2019 growing season is waning, meaning many will be unable to plant seeds until next year.

Given the hardships faced by farmers and the state’s history of raising hemp, the sooner a regulatory structure can be drawn up, the better.

After all, the fate of Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne’s bill was scarcely in doubt, given the overwhelming support it received in all three voting rounds. We understand regulations shouldn’t be written overnight. But, if the gears weren’t already in motion before this legislation became law, the state missed a prime opportunity.

With several states approving measures allowing for industrial hemp cultivation following its approval in the 2018 farm bill, the time to act is now. A prolonged limbo provides no benefit, except to perhaps those who have opposed industrial hemp owing to old misconceptions linking it to marijuana.

(Again, an important disclaimer: Though both are varieties of the cannabis plant, industrial hemp is not recreational marijuana and contains negligible amounts – less than 0.3% or less, by law – of the compound responsible for the high.)

Even before record storms and flooding this spring, Nebraska’s farmers have been hindered for years by low commodity prices that drove farm incomes to less than half of what they were in 2013, among other factors beyond their control. If they want to plant hemp, rather than corn or soybeans, and take a crack at boosting their bottom line, we support their efforts.

Diversifying the crops grown in the state makes economic sense. It’s far too early to tell if industrial hemp will become the dynamo it was touted to be at a legislative hearing in February, but this in-demand cash crop clearly has an array of uses in fabrics, furniture, food and far more.

Helping matters is that Nebraska’s climate lends itself well to hemp cultivation. The crop requires little water, breaks up compacted soil and helps remove nitrates from the soil. It’s little wonder the Cornhusker State led the nation in hemp production until it was declared a controlled substance at the federal level in the 1950s – and that remnants from those plants remain today as “ditch weed.”

As is the case with any new crop, it’ll take a few years before industrial hemp fully takes root and the state realizes its potential. But, if the regulatory program isn’t unveiled soon, it will cost farmers a season of growing – not to mention an untold amount of revenue.

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