The first industrial hemp seeds are sprouting across Illinois

By: Liz Rupel, Policy Organizer

Industrial hemp cultivator and processing applications went live on the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s website at the end of April. Thanks to the dedicated team at the Department, many applications were approved in a matter of hours, which gave farmers a newly found appreciation for the state of Illinois.

Fast Forward to the Middle of May, which many experts say is an ideal time to start planting hemp. Unfortunately, the heavy, frequent rain fall events and varying temperatures have prevented many Illinois farmers from planting much of anything, including industrial hemp.

A tiny hemp sprout emerges at Oak Tree Farms in Ashland.

It is May 17, and I am out at Oak Tree Farm. This was a fine Friday indeed, not too hot and the sun stayed shining. Oak Tree is owned and operated by Chad Wallace. You may have heard or read Chad’s name in many of our stories or even on the local news. Chad has been advocating for industrial hemp with us since we began our efforts back in 2016. Growing hemp at Oak Tree Farm will add to his already diverse farm system in which he currently raises pastured pigs, sheep, chickens (which Chad loves), and vegetables.

As we walked around his property I was introduced to a lot of fresh piglet and lamb faces. Getting close to the baby pigs proved to be rather difficult. We had to use food as a distraction to the mother, and I was able to get a glimpse of the beautiful piglets that Chad was so giddy about back in December.

Afterwards, we marched over to the pen with the lambs and chickens.

Chad plans to use the sheep to graze his hemp fields once they are established.

We then explored Chad’s greenhouse to observe the progress of his hemp.

Growing hemp starts out like any other germination and transplanting process. Chad had a plate under a light to germinate the seeds. On several shelves, Chad has planted the seeds that germinated into seed trays.

In the next couple days, once he sees that some of the plants have sprouted, the trays will be moved to the greenhouse floor to sit under fluorescent lights. You can see in this photo that he has over 300 plants growing.

Until the plants grow another 2-3 inches, Chad said that he “will be watching these like a hawk.”

Chad’s biggest challenge is and will continue to be the juggle between the farmers market and growing hemp. Along with his pasture-raised pork, Chad sells a variety of vegetables at the market. Maintaining those two systems and now farming hemp will prove to be a challenge for this experienced grower, but one that he isn’t afraid to take on. Though, he does wish that growing hemp generates enough income so he can take a small step back on his workload, selling just the pork at the market and growing hemp with a one-time harvest.

After years of advocating, it was a remarkable moment to finally get to see industrial hemp sprouting (legally) for the first time in over half a century. Chad is giddy, yet again, to have the opportunity to learn and experiment with this crop. “This is a learning year, and I am going to learn as much as I can” says Chad.