Industrial Hemp Summer Study meets with North Dakota commissioner of ag

South Dakota Farmers Union
Farm Forum

HURON — Industrial hemp has been on the minds of South Dakota legislators this summer as they work to develop a bill Governor Noem will sign in 2020. On Aug. 19, several legislators met in Pierre with Doug Goehring, North Dakota commissioner of agriculture, and leaders from other states where the agriculture crop is legal.

“We’re working to come up with legislation everyone can be comfortable with,” explains Lee Qualm, House majority leader and chairman of Industrial Hemp Summer Study.

After the South Dakota Senate failed to override Governor Noem’s veto of House Bill 1191, which would have legalized industrial hemp, a group of legislators, including Minority Whip and District 28A Representative Oren Lesmeister began meeting with officials from states where industrial hemp is grown and processed, to learn how state departments of agriculture work with law enforcement, farmers and citizens.

“We are seeing that these states have strict rules in place, but we also see that the fear industrial hemp is a backway to produce the drug, marijuana, is unwarranted,” Lesmeister, a Parade rancher and small business owner explains. “We have also learned farmers can make money from this.”

New marketing opportunities from the hardy crop that can be grown in nearly every region of South Dakota, are the reason Qualm and Lesmeister voted to legalize growing the crop during the 2019 Legislative Session.

“Industrial hemp is the first new crop that has come along in decades,” says Qualm, a Platte farmer. “It provides the opportunity to add value to a crop before it leaves the state. We are so used to shipping out raw commodities instead of processing them here.”

“Industrial hemp would give South Dakotans opportunities,” adds Lesmeister. “I say South Dakotans, not just farmers or ranchers, because it’s the business as a whole, through manufacturing opportunities that could benefit the entire state.”

The men hope what they learned from the Aug. 19 discussions will help their committee develop legislation that will pass in 2020. Other members of the Industrial Hemp Summer Study include Committee Vice Chair Rocky Blare, Ideal; Representatives Shawn Bordeaux, Mission; Bob Glanzer, Huron; Tim Goodwin, Rapid City; Randy Gross, Elkton; Nancy York, Watertown and Senators Red Dawn Foster, Pine Ridge; Joshua Klumb, Mount Vernon and Reynold Nesiba, Sioux Falls.

Members of one of the state’s largest farm and ranch organizations are watching the progression of the new industrial hemp bill closely. “Legalizing the growing of industrial hemp has been part of our policy since 2018, because our family farmers and ranchers need new opportunities. And industrial hemp is a new, potentially high-value opportunity,” explains South Dakota Farmers Union President Doug Sombke, a fourth-generation Conde farmer.

The delay caused by the Governor’s veto troubles Sombke and Lesmeister because they are concerned neighboring states, will race to develop processing infrastructure ahead of South Dakota.

Qualm shares the concern, but believes opportunities still exist. “We are a bit behind the 8-ball, we will see some rules in September or October from USDA, and the FDA may take longer than that. I don’t think we are too far behind,” he says.

Which is the reason the discussion is so important. “Due to a stressed ag economy, producers are losing money year-after-year. South Dakota producers need more options to diversify and be profitable, they need more tools in their tool belts. The legalization of industrial hemp production will tell our producers that we want them to succeed,” says Luke Reindl, communications and policy specialist with South Dakota Farmers Union. “As a grassroots organization our members set our policy, and many of our family farmers and ranchers would like to be able to grow industrial hemp, so legalizing industrial hemp will be a priority for us as we approach the 2020 Legislative Session.”

And, the discussion showed there’s still a lot of work to be done if an industrial hemp bill will pass Legislative Session 2019, explains Mitch Richter, South Dakota Farmers Union lobbyist. “We heard from North Dakota and Montana on how they dealt with issues around licensing, law enforcement and testing, yet South Dakota’s State Department of Agriculture as well as Public Safety brought up the same questions they had during Legislative Session. They are still stuck on the fact that hemp and marijuana are similar, but they have not moved beyond that with plans for how they will deal with testing, licensing and fee structure. I know the legislators on the Summer Study have done the legwork and research, but it looks like they have a long way to go before the Governor will sign legislation to legalize hemp in South Dakota.”

As South Dakota’s farmers and ranchers wait on lawmakers, Lesmeister encourages them to begin researching today. “Don’t wait for someone to hand you the information. Don’t wait until legislation is passed. Farmers need to be doing their research today, because the minute a bill does pass legalizing industrial hemp, things will move quickly and growers need to be prepared,” explains Lesmeister, who began researching industrial hemp opportunities a few years ago after the 2014 farm bill opened the door for states to grow industrial hemp on a trial basis.

“The U.S. has been the biggest user of hemp in the world for years. Now, that we are growing it here, we have years of research to pull from Europe and other countries where they’ve been growing and processing industrial hemp for years,” says Lesmeister, who is most excited about the opportunities to add value to industrial hemp by processing it in South Dakota. “Depending on where they plan to market it, and the variety they plant, industrial hemp can bring farmers between $1,000 to $14,000 an acre.”

Lesmeister references a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) pointing to industrial hemp as an ingredient used in more than 17,000 products – ranging from granola bars, healthcare, cosmetics and clothing to cattle feed and hempcrete, a stronger, lighter-weight, industrial-grade concrete.

To learn more, attend the South Dakota Farmers Union Industrial Hemp panel discussion, held on the Freedom Stage at the South Dakota State Fair, at 1 p.m. August 31 during Farmers Union Day at the State Fair.