A training program opening this month in De Soto will educate Kansas farmers about a crop with incredible potential: industrial hemp.

The plant isn’t connected to medical or recreational marijuana. Instead, it can be processed into fabrics, papers and a fantastic array of everyday applications. And as businessman Joe Bisogno has recognized, it offers our state’s agricultural industry an astonishing opportunity. Our climate is nearly perfect to grow the crop.

“The latitude line is 1 degree off the ideal latitude to grow hemp. The other thing is Kansas can grow two crops a year: one in the spring and one in late summer or early fall,” he told The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Tim Carpenter last month.

Legislation had to pave the way, first. Gov. Jeff Colyer signed a bill in April that allowed growth of industrial hemp for research. And just last month, the federal Farm Bill signed by President Trump made hemp farming legal across the nation.

The De Soto project — America’s Hemp Academy — will show Kansas farmers how to correctly grow the crop. It could be added to the arsenal of such Sunflower State staples as wheat, corn and soybeans.

Or as Bisogno memorably put it at the academy’s opening: “Industrial hemp is not pot, but it is a pot of gold for Kansas farmers.”

Our state and federal legislators should be praised for clearing the way to grow hemp in Kansas. And we trust that our state’s farmers will be quick to learn about the plant and grow it successfully. They have risen to face challenges before: Now they have the ability to break ground in an entirely new, exciting field.

We’ve all heard about the problems with agriculture today. Trade wars. Consolidation. Climate change. The list goes on. And rural states like Kansas have borne the brunt, seeing slower rates of growth than urbanized competitors.

A single new crop won’t fix everything. But it certainly goes some distance toward providing farmers access to new markets and new ways of organizing their businesses. Legislators and entrepreneurs have a role to play, too, figuring out ways to expand the hemp business and grow the array of products produced from the versatile fiber.

“With the industrial uses that are out there, we think this could be a major crop for us — one of the top five crops grown in the state of Kansas,” outgoing Gov. Jeff Colyer said at the academy’s opening.

Let’s hope he’s right. And let’s work to make it so.


GateHouse Kansas