Illinois farmers one step closer to industrial hemp

Hemp Bill passed another hurdle last week in the House Ag Committee; already passed the Senate unanimously

Springfield – On Tuesday, May 8th, the Illinois House Agriculture Committee members voted unanimously to move forward legislation that would help Illinois farmers, the state economy, and the environment by allowing the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) to license farmers to grow industrial hemp. The Industrial Hemp Bill (SB2298), which has garnered bipartisan support and unanimous passage in the Senate, will now appear before the full House, the final step before it lands on the governor’s desk.

Illinois Stewardship Alliance and Illinois Farmers Union initiated this 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 the lead producer of hemp in the 1940s.

The bill is already generating interest amongst farmers for both its economic and agronomic benefits. 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.

Stewardship Alliance members are anxious to see the hemp bill pass. Farmer Chad Wallace of Oak Tree Farms in Ashland said, “A lot of people, including my grandparents, used to grow hemp back in the day. We still have it coming up wild on my farm sometimes. I’m very interested in the possibility of using hemp to help naturally transition some of my farmland to organic production in the future while still earning income for a cash crop.”

Farmer Robert Gleason of Elkhart says, “Illinois farmers are always looking for another cash crop to grow besides corn and soybeans in order to help spread out risk. I think most Illinois farmers would be interested in exploring industrial hemp as long as the economics pencil out.”

For states with existing hemp programs for farmers, those economics are indeed penciling out. Neighboring Kentucky enrolled over 209 farms and 3,200 acres in its hemp program in 2017, and recently approved 12,000 acres for growing hemp and research in 2018. It is already possible to purchase hemp products grown and processed in Kentucky.

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.

Salvador Jasso, a clothing designer in Glendale Heights said he is excited for the opportunity to source hemp locally instead of purchasing hemp from China. “I have created a hemp clothing line to bring opportunities back home to the people who founded Illinois, our farmers. I want to revitalize our soil, our foundation, and to rebuild our communities for a sustainable future.”

 

State Senator Toi Hutchinson (D – Chicago Heights) sponsored the legislation. While Illinois passed an industrial hemp bill in 2014 in response to the Farm Bill, that legislation only allowed state universities offering four-year agricultural science degrees to become licensed – not farmers. No applications have been filed by any university.

The current bill, modeled after states like Kentucky with existing programs, would give the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) the ability to license farmers to grow industrial hemp.

“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 legislators from both sides of the aisle and across the state for supporting the bill. “We encourage the House to follow the Senate’s leadership and pass this bill. It’s a win-win-win for farmers, our state and our economy.”

This weekend, New Belgium Brewery will launch their hemp beer in Chicago. For each Hemperor HPA purchased, New Belgium will donate a minimum of $1 for Illinois Stewardship Alliance to support legalizing the growth of industrial hemp for Illinois farmers.  The free event is Sunday, May 20, at 1pm at GMan Tavern, 3740 N. Clark St, in Chicago. Learn More