Raising hemp for CBD is like 'the Wild West,' grower says
BISMARCK, N.D. — Chris Adams has worked through a lot of problems as he's started growing industrial hemp, both for seed and for CBD oil. On the CBD side, he wants other growers to beware that the industry is a lot different than other ag markets.
"It's the Wild West," he said.
Adams, who farms in Grand Forks, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn., was one of the speakers at a CBD 101 course put on Friday, July 19 in Bismarck by the North Dakota Agriculture Department. Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said the meeting was to clear up misconceptions about hemp and CBD oil, provide some education and connect growers and processors.
CBD does not cause a high and is often sold as a dietary supplement or included in creams and other personal care products. It can be extracted from hemp, a plant in the cannabis family that is low in THC.
North Dakota has been one of a handful of states participating in pilot projects to grow industrial hemp since the 2014 Farm Bill. The 2018 Farm Bill set the stage for nationwide hemp production, though the U.S. Department of Agriculture hasn't completed the rulemaking procedure to give states an idea how that will work, explained John Mortenson, a plant protection specialist at the North Dakota Ag Department. North Dakota has a framework for its own rules, which will be submitted as soon as the USDA is ready to see them, he said.
While hemp mostly has been grown for seed or fiber since it's been legal to grow in the state, CBD oil seems to be the hemp product most appealing to growers, processors and the public, Goehring said.
"That seems to be the burgeoning industry that people are somewhat excited about because there's more market demand for CBD itself," he said.
Proponents of CBD believe the chemical could be a treatment for a litany of ailments. Research hasn't proven all of the touted uses, but CBD has shown potential in treating things like epilepsy, anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain.
While CBD might end up being a lucrative market, speakers urged growers to do their homework.
Adams said growing hemp for seeds or fiber isn't wildly different than growing any other grain. It's put in with an air drill and combined and sold. Growing for CBD uses different types of plants and has more in common with vegetable production.
"To the government, industrial hemp is .3% THC or less, so in that regard, they're the same," Adams said. "But, genetically speaking, they're fourth cousins."
"In CBD, you're actually looking at the buds, the vegetative material on the plant, and they have to be very careful about what they're taking off of that plant," Goehring said.
Besides the different production methods, Adams said the other issue in growing for the CBD market is that the chemical's fairly recent status as a legal product means the most knowledgeable people aren't always the most trustworthy.
"It's coming from a Wild West, black market, illegal side," he explained.
Adams grew for CBD last year in Minnesota. He paid $3 per plant, and the seller gave him the wrong plants, which weren't "feminized" — a necessity for CBD production.
"I was sent something I didn't buy and it didn't produce anything," he said.
Other people have had problems with variable THC content, which could put the plants over the legal limit for THC content. And some have been given seed that doesn't produce anything.
It hasn't been unusual for people to pay $2 per seed for hemp for CBD, Goehring said. Adams said even with those prices, the sellers often were the fourth person in line from the original breeder and the genetics were unproven.
Adams said he is working on "legitimizing" the genetics behind CBD seeds. He expects the price to go down as it becomes more commonplace.
Along with planning to offer seed, Adams also wants to be a knowledge source for other farmers. He plans to consult and help other people avoid some of the problems he's faced.
"I have the know-how or know someone who has the know-how" on most hemp-related subjects, he said.
Goehring said that while new regulations will mean growers can move product across state lines and avoid per-acre fees, licenses still will be needed to grow hemp and growers must pass background checks. Any growers interested in growing hemp for CBD or for seed or fiber should contact the North Dakota Ag Department for more information.