Local farmers were given an in-depth look at hemp production last week at the South Dakota Farmers Union annual convention.
Derrick Dohmann, co-owner and sales and marketing manager of Horizon Hemp Seeds, offered tips and tricks of the trade on Dec. 10 at the Ramkota Convention Center.
Horizon Hemp Seeds is based in Willow Lake but raises its crops in Grand Forks, N.D.
There are currently 47 states that allow cultivation of hemp for commercial, research or pilot programs — all except for South Dakota, Idaho and Mississippi.
Dohmann presented data that showed that of the more than half a million acres in the U.S. licensed to grow hemp in 2019, only about 200,000 were planted and 110,000 were actually harvested.
A hemp bill passed the South Dakota state Legislature in 2019 but was vetoed by Gov. Kristi Noem.
Mitch Richter, a lobbyist for the Farmers Union, said that a committee met during the summer to draft a new bill, which will be presented during the upcoming legislative session.
“The governor is still opposed,” he said. “She also mentioned that she’s not had one farm organization come to her and ask for the crop, so evidently I’m not doing my job well enough, because we certainly were supportive of it last session and all summer long.”
Dohmann provided details about the hemp plant and best practices for cultivating it.
Horizon Hemp Seeds launched its first crop in May. Within three days, sprouts were emerging and two weeks later, there was already a full canopy, he said.
“It’s truly incredible, it actually does happen that fast,” he said. “Pretty unreal to actually watch it come up.”
Throughout the growing process, Dohmann discovered how resilient hemp is.
It doesn’t thrive in flooded soil, but heavy rainfall won’t kill it. Despite being tall and reedy — “I’m 6’5” and it felt like I was in a jungle in these fields,” he said — hemp holds its own against northern prairie elements.
“I was really surprised, it actually handled the wind really, really well,” he said. “It’s a tough crop.”
The hemp industry is very young, and Horizon Hemp Seeds wants to be on its cutting edge.
In the next year, the company will focus on seed sales and crop yields, including exploring genetics and customizing strains of hemp for specific areas or results.
It also plans to open a processing facility to give farmers an outlet for their crops.
“Right now, that is the one thing in this industry that there’s not enough of, because it is such a new crop,” he said. “No one wants to grow anything that they can’t get rid of. So we want to be vertically integrated and be able to sell growers and famers our seed and say, ‘Hey, when you harvest this stuff, bring it right back to us.’”
Horizon Hemp Seeds offers two variations of seeds, and both are dual purpose, meaning they’re bred to be used for both grain and fiber production.
Hemp grain seeds are used for myriad purposes, including medical, economical and environmental, but the fiber industry is much smaller. However, it’s on the rise, Dohmann said, and trials are currently underway nationwide to integrate the crop into many everyday products ranging from concrete and plastic to jeans.
During a question-and-answer segment following his talk, Dohmann was asked about the difference between industrial hemp and marijuana, both of which are varieties of the cannabis sativa plant.
Under federal law, hemp is defined as containing only 0.3% or less THC, the component that gives marijuana its psychoactive properties.
“You could smoke this stuff all day, all you’re going to get is a migraine,” Dohmann said.
Hot hemp refers to crops that, when tested and due purely to seed genetics, exceed that THC limit, he said. Tests on Horizon Hemp Seeds crops have come in at 0.016% and 0.0039% THC — far from the legal threshold.
“If you do go out and plant stuff and it gets hot in the field, you have to destroy the whole field (per federal law),” Dohmann said. “With us, you don’t even have to worry about coming close to that. Whatever you’re putting in the ground is going to be just fine.”
The Farmers Union convention wrapped up on Dec. 11.