- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 12, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A variety of North Dakota farmers have expressed interest in becoming part of a program this year to test whether industrial hemp could be a viable crop in the state.

Seventeen producers applied and 11 of the applications were deemed eligible. Rachel Seifert-Spilde, a plant protection specialist with the state Agriculture Department, and two North Dakota State University researchers on Monday identified what they believe are the top few proposals. Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring will make the final choices.

“It was very obvious who had done their homework and had the potential to actually accomplish the research,” Seifert-Spilde said.

Hemp can be in a number of products, including rope, paper and lotion. North Dakota issued the nation’s first hemp-growing licenses in 2007, but efforts to establish the industry in the state have been hampered by federal drug law that doesn’t differentiate between hemp and its cousin marijuana.

A provision in the 2014 federal farm bill allowed for universities and state agriculture departments to research hemp in states that permit its cultivation. A bill pending in Congress would go further, separating industrial hemp from marijuana.

“I think they will probably relax the rules,” said Richard Grabowski, who operates a berry, vegetable and tree farm near Selz and applied to be part of the state hemp program. “The main thing now is to grow it and test it, and find out what plant or seed will grow the best.”

Brandon Koenig is a more traditional farmer, growing crops such as wheat and barley and raising cattle on his farm near Woodworth. He also wants to grow hemp to further diversify his operation.

“I’ve heard of people in Canada who have grown it with good luck, with large cash flows,” he said. “That sparked my interest.”

NDSU already has started hemp research at its center in Langdon, and has imported seed from Canada, France and Australia. Hemp seed is not readily available in the U.S. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration registered North Dakota’s Agriculture Department as a seed importer in August, though the agency still needs approval for imports for the test program.

Participants will bear the cost of importing the seed and growing it. They also must obtain a state hemp permit that costs $5 per acre with a minimum of $150, and pay $42.75 to cover the cost of a background check.

“Just to have a foot in the door, (it) is well worth going through this step,” Koenig said.

Linette Kratochvil, who raises everything from cattle to ducks near Lankin and has just gotten into crop farming, said she only recently learned about the potential of hemp and has been researching “everything I can find on it.”

“It’s doing great in other countries. Let’s grow it here,” she said.


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