North Dakota's hemp production is believed to rank the state as the third-largest in the nation behind Kentucky, with 12,800 acres, and Colorado.
There were 3,124 acres accepted for North Dakota’s 2017 industrial hemp program — 45 times more acreage than last year’s 70 acres. And with that planting boom came interest from processing plants, with several new operators expected to open by harvest time.
Healthy Oilseeds in Carrington is the only processing plant certified to handle hemp in the state to date. President Roger Gussiaas handled the processing of North Dakota’s crop last year and will do so again this year, with the capacity to process 3,000 acres of hemp at his plant.
And because of the increased acreage in the state, Gussiaas has plans to expand and put up another plant on the west side of Carrington.
“We’re not sure about capacity yet,” he said, as they complete market research.
There’s a possibility the new plant could be built yet this year in an effort to get in on part of this season’s production, according to Gussiaas, who offers milling, roasting and cold press but he may expand to dehulling, if the demand is there.
“I anticipate we could expand our production leaps and bounds,” North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said, but that means developing the processing and marketing to coincide with the growing side.
Goehring’s efforts are on making sure there are processors for growers to sell to in order to sustain the growth in acres.
“I’ll continue to expand the number of acres permitted if producers have the opportunity to sell product,” he said. “If I’m going to permit 20,000 acres, I’m going to check with processors to make sure they’re able to handle it.”
In addition to hemp, Gussiaas does other specialty oilseed processing of flax seed and borage seed. He has access to markets in 18 countries and 35 states, selling oils and protein powder. He got into hemp processing as a way to offer another oil product to his customers.
“There is demand for the product,” he said. “We don’t know all the players yet, but we’re working on it. We’ve got a ways to go to develop markets.”
North Dakota’s climate and soil are good more hemp production. Farmers say it’s an easy crop to grow, competing well against weeds and not requiring herbicides. It’s drought resistant and fetches a higher price than many other crops on the market.
“It’s grown pretty much organically,” said Gussiaas, explaining it needs only a small amount of fertilizer.
Clarence Laub, who grows hemp near Elgin, said his 240 acres are doing well despite the drought conditions plaguing the state, especially when he compares it to his corn and soybean fields.
“It’s not showing drought stress right now,” he said. “Some hasn’t germinated, but even where it’s thin is a very nice stand.”
In addition to Gussiaas, Goehring said he’s been working with a number of other entities on a number of uses for the crop.
On the fiber side, there’s opportunity for its use in textiles and paper. He said there are also companies exploring hemp’s potential use in construction materials, such as a concrete additive. Goehring hopes, if any of these pan out, some companies may set up shop in North Dakota. On the food products side, he’s talked with potential de-hullers who would process hemp hearts for consumption.
Goehring would also like to see potential value-added options — perhaps a snack bar.
“I’ll try to stay open minded," said Goehring, adding it will be up to processors to get the necessary federal permissions.