Rachel Spilde will have the distinction of being the first person to bring legal hemp seed into North Dakota.
Spilde, a plant protection specialist with the State Agriculture Department, is taking care of all the details and had to pass a federal and state background check to even put the seed into the trunk of her state vehicle.
She’ll alert the North Dakota Highway Patrol when she drives up to the Canadian border in a few weeks to pick it up for this spring’s first pilot planting program.
“I won’t have a Highway Patrol escort, but they will be contacted. I’ll have it locked up in my vehicle and the Highway Patrol will meet me back at the Capitol where the seed will be checked in,” Spilde said.
It may all seem a little silly, but she wants all the proper safeguards in place.
This leafy cannabis cousin can be grown here after being outlawed since 1970, when all marijuana was blacklisted by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule 1 dangerous drug, like heroin.
States are pushing back against the prohibition, and Gov. Jack Dalrymple joined them last year, signing a bill for an industrial hemp program for commercial and research purposes.
Spilde aims to take delivery around May 1 from two Canadian seed suppliers, who will meet her at the border with 1,775 pounds of hemp seed in 10 varieties. Cost of the seed is $2.50 a pound, “higher than we expected,” Spilde said.
The producers in the pilot program are eagerly awaiting the seed and watching the spring planting calendar. Five growers applied to plant about 70 acres this spring, in addition to a small plot at the Langdon Research Extension Center.
One of those is Clarence Laub, of rural Elgin. He’s got cows feeding now on the 10-acre plot of last year’s spring wheat he’s set aside for the hemp seeds. The cows are doing their job, adding natural nutrients, and he’s looking forward to doing his.
He, too, had to take a criminal background test and so will anyone else on the farm who works the hemp.
“It’s not a drug at all, but the (federal authorities) are kinda picky,” Laub said.
Canadian industrial hemp is required to have an active THC level — that’s the psychoactive “high” part — of .3 percent or less, compared to up to 30 percent in marijuana.
He’s planning to plant two varieties: one that produces a grain, for pressing into oil and meal, and one that’s more dual purpose and is used for fiber as well. Spilde said the producers will pay for the seed and can keep whatever they harvest. It can’t be used to seed another crop, but it can be sold for a commercial purpose, she said.
Laub said he’s looking forward to keeping all the data and records. Hemp is not licensed as a crop to which herbicide can be applied, so he can only put on fertilizer, but he expects the plants’ lush growth habit — it grows from 6 to 15 feet high — will crowd out the weeds anyway.
He’s anxious to see how well he can adapt the crop to his equipment, at planting and harvest, even though it’s a small acreage.
“We’ll make one pass, turn around and that’ll be about it,” he says.
Small or not, the acreage on his farm will be a part of state agricultural history, paving the way for a day when hemp is put into rotation for its cash value and for how it suppresses weeds and improves soil.
“It’s exciting,” Laub said.