Fields of Opportunity as Hemp Grows in Popularity Among Kansas Farmers

The agricultural landscape of Kansas, a state steeped in farming tradition, has always been characterized by its vast wheat fields and robust cattle ranches. However, with the changing dynamics of markets and the demands of consumers, Kansas farmers are on the lookout for innovative, sustainable and profitable crop alternatives. Enter hemp.  

The 2014 National Farm Bill paved the way for the legalization of hemp production, setting stringent guidelines by restricting the THC content in industrial hemp plants to less than 0.3%—a concentration too low for recreational marijuana use. Fast forward to 2018 and Kansas, led by Governor Jeff Colyer, signed a bill to legalize industrial hemp. Kansas is one of 42 states approved to raise industrial hemp. However, an industrial hemp producer license issued by the Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA) is required and licensees may only use authorized seed or clone industrial hemp plants. 

Hemp’s Versatility & Usage 

In Kansas, the fiber and grain varieties of hemp appear to be the most promising. Why? Because they align closely with the agricultural practices and expertise of local farmers. A row crop’s seeds can be harvested using a combine’s header, while its woody stalk can be baled, ready for fiber processing.  

Hemp is used in a wide variety of products and can be grown for seed, fiber or oil. The cellulose fiber is used to make jeans, shirts, dresses, hats, bags, ropes, skin care products, building materials, paper and many food products. The only drawback of using hemp fiber rather than cotton in clothing is that hemp wrinkles easily.  

In the food sector, hemp seeds are consumed whole, de-hulled or in their raw leafy form, offering significant health benefits. The grain is also a source of oil and meal, and while CBD oil derived from hemp promises higher profits, it’s also fraught with greater risks and costs compared to fiber or seed production. The Kansas hemp sector is currently pushing for hemp’s inclusion in animal feed and pet food, a testament to its growing market footprint. Moreover, with a bullish industrial hemp market trajectory, the future looks promising. 

Environmental Benefits & Hemp’s Role in Crop Rotation 

Research suggests that introducing hemp as a rotation crop could enhance the yield of subsequent crops cultivated on the same field. One of the reasons? Hemp is a natural suppressor of weeds. Moreover, it plays a pivotal role in soil conservation. Hemp roots, known to grow deep and fast, bind the soil, curbing erosion. Hemp also captures twice as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than trees, which results in cleaner air. 

Revitalizing Soil Health 

Hemp is beneficial to soil quality. It can produce 120-140 pounds of nitrogen in a 60–90-day period. After harvesting, it can leave behind approximately 5,000-6,000 pounds of biomass per acre that can be left to decompose and enrich the soil. This replenishment can revitalize nutrient-deprived soil, reducing reliance on synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and irrigation. 

Economic Implications for Farmers 

From an economic vantage, hemp holds promise. Profits on a hemp crop can range from $2,500 per acre up to and over $50,000 per acre, contingent on the cultivation practices adopted and the CBD content in the harvested plants. Despite its lucrative potential, hemp cultivation requires investment, both monetary and in terms of effort. Cultivation can be labor-intensive and demands a nuanced approach. Typically, an acre can support 1,500 to 3,000 plants, given optimal sunlight conditions. The average hemp farm in the U.S spans 22 acres, with Colorado leading the way with over 40,000 acres dedicated to hemp cultivation.  

Hemp’s sustainability quotient is high—it demands less water and fewer pesticides than crops like cotton. Moreover, for farmers, it’s a golden ticket to diversifying their income streams from a single crop. 

For Kansas farmers willing to embrace change, industrial hemp emerges as a compelling choice. But as with all ventures, the key lies in thorough research and preparation. If you would like to have a conversation about the opportunities and risks you have in front of you, contact an Adams Brown farm accountant.