Illinois farmers now have the opportunity to grow industrial hemp, thanks to the Governor’s signature at the DuQuoin County Fair
Springfield – On Saturday, August 25th, Governor Bruce Rauner signed legislation that will help Illinois farmers, the state economy, and the environment by allowing the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) to license farmers to grow industrial hemp.
Illinois Stewardship Alliance and Illinois Farmers Union initiated the hemp bill in 2016, and collaborated with the Illinois Environmental Council and Illinois Farm Bureau in a coalition of farm and environmental interests to bring hemp back to Illinois, which was once a lead producer of hemp during wartime efforts in the 1940s. The governor’s signature on the bill today now gives Illinois the opportunity to reclaim that position.
With record low soybean prices this summer alongside falling corn prices, the opportunity to grow industrial hemp could not come at a better time for Illinois farmers. Increasing demand for hemp products in recent years not only gives farmers the opportunity to earn income on a third crop, but allows them to diversify their operations and better manage risk.
In addition to the economic benefits, industrial hemp also doubles as an important conservation tool. Hemp holds promise for remediating contaminated soils, helping farmers transition to organic, and may be able to outcompete aggressive herbicide-resistant weeds, helping farmers combat this major problem without having to turn to harsher herbicides.
Illinois farmers, eyeing the success of hemp programs in the neighboring states of Kentucky, Indiana, and, more recently, Wisconsin, have been eagerly awaiting the governor’s signature since May when the bill passed nearly unanimously through the Illinois House and Senate.
Farmer Chad Wallace of Oak Tree Farm in Ashland, Illinois says of the bill’s passage, “I could not be happier! I’ve spent the last couple of years learning about industrial hemp from other farmers, and even more recently attended a hemp field day with about 100 farmers in Wisconsin where they are already in production. From what I’ve seen, I think hemp could be a great fit for my farm and many others across Illinois, and it opens up doors for all kinds of new manufacturing possibilities for our state. I’m excited to get started. ”
Demand is high not only from farmers, but brewers, processors, and even clothing designers in Illinois who hope to purchase their supply from local farmers soon. There are at least 25,000 different products that could be made from hemp, from plastic alternatives to “hempcrete” and particle board, food, cosmetics, rope, clothing, and much more, according to North Dakota State University research.
State Senator Toi Hutchinson (D – Chicago Heights) and State Representative Tim Butler (R – Springfield) sponsored the legislation. While Illinois passed an industrial hemp bill in 2014 in response to the federal Farm Bill, that legislation only allowed state universities offering four-year agricultural science degrees to become licensed – not farmers—and no university applied until just one this year.
The new law gives the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) the ability to license farmers to grow industrial hemp. IDOA now has 120 days to write rules for the licensing procedure, during which a public comment period will be available. If the rulemaking process is completed in a timely fashion, fields of hemp might be visible in Illinois as early as spring of 2019.
“This legislation gives Illinois farmers the freedom to try growing a crop that’s good for their bottom line and can keep our waterways cleaner,” Executive Director Liz Moran Stelk of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance said. She applauded the governor and legislators from both sides of the aisle for supporting the bill.
Rob Davies of Illinois Farmers Union says, “We are pleased that the bill has been signed and believe that industrial hemp holds strong potential for family farmers across Illinois. We are particularly interested to see how the processing and value-add of this crop can benefit our state’s rural economies. Industrial hemp is by no means an overnight miracle crop, but its cultivation offers many potential benefits to farmers, consumers, and communities in Illinois.”