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South Dakota's hemp industry takes shape one year into legalization despite challenges August 18, 2021
South Dakota's hemp industry takes shape one year into legalization despite challenges

Derrick Dohmann, a hemp producer and sales manager of Horizon Hemp Seeds in Willow Lake, South Dakota, delved into the process of growing the crops, suggesting the best practice is to “plant it, and wave goodbye” until harvest. Dohmann was one of four agriculture experts who participated in a panel discussion, sponsored by Agweek and moderated by Agweek editor Jenny Schlecht, on the state's launching of the hemp industry during the second day of Dakotafest in Mitchell.

“We’ve seen tremendous success. Some fields look absolutely phenomenal in places that have had some more moisture than others,” Dohmann said, noting his hemp plants received about 5 to 6 inches of rainfall this year, helping produce 11-foot tall plants. “Fertility is kind of hit and miss depending on what was planted there in previous years. There is nothing you can spray on this crop, and the plant itself is your weed control. The trial is in the harvest. So we are going to learn a lot this year.” Dohmann stressed to the crowd gathered around the panel at Dakotafest that cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD — which has become a popular pain relieving alternative — isn’t the only avenue to produce hemp and flip a profit. CBD is one of many chemical properties found in cannabis and is derived from hemp. What differentiates CBD from cannabis, or marijuana, is that it lacks a certain level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that’s found in marijuana, which is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the “high” effect. Under state and federal law, CBD that’s legally sold and distributed can’t have over 0.3% of THC.

“A lot of people ultimately think CBD right away. They don’t realize there is a grain and fiber industry, which has been around for a long time,” Dohmann said. “Not saying one is better than the other, but do your homework on it before you plant. It’s still the Wild West out there with some guys trying to sell bad genetics to make a quick buck, so make sure your seed is certified.” In its first year of legalization, Derek Schiefelbein, the state’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources program manager, said the state issued 19 licenses for producers who are growing the crop. According to Schiefelbein, there were 2,240 acres of hemp that were planted in 2020. “Some people bowed out with the hot, dry weather. But some folks put some acres in that did get some rain and germinated,” he said. “A little bit of that is for the CBD hemp, while the rest is grain and fiber hemp.” In states where hemp production has been legal, Schiefelbein said producers were primarily growing the crop to be processed into CBD. However, South Dakota saw more producers cultivate the crop into fiber and grain that can be used in foods, clothing and a long list of other products. Oren Lesmeister, a member of the South Dakota Farmers Union Board of Directors and a representative in the South Dakota House who led the push for legalization of hemp in the 2020 legislative session, has high hopes for the future of the state’s hemp industry, highlighting the wide variety of uses of the plant.

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