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Hemp-based industry emerges

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FIELD: An interested farmer talks to a representative about the height of the crop. A Purdue Extension representative said she's seen crops reach heights of 12 feet.
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EXPLAIN: A representative from Heartland Harvest explains the different parts of a hemp plant to a crowd of hemp farmers and people thinking about getting into the industry.

BY Samantha Oyler - soyler@chronicle-tribune.com

HARTFORD CITY --- Kline Family Farm was packed with hemp and hemp enthusiasts Wednesday morning.

Heartland Harvest, a hemp processing company, hosted a field day to provide information to individuals interested in getting into the growing hemp industry.

Hartland Harvest Founder and Chief Marketing Officer Chris Moorman said the event was geared toward farmers looking to start growing hemp. About 30 actual growers were present.

Nearly 325 people showed up, most of them trying to get information to help get them started.

“There were a lot of people present thinking, ‘Can we do this next year?’ It’s so different than corn and beans,” Moorman said.

Industrial hemp production specifically meant for CBD oil was legalized in the state of Indiana on March 21, 2018. It was illegal to grow hemp in the United States until the federal government passed the 2018 Farm Bill. 

Since the production of hemp and hemp-based products is new farmers don’t have decades of experience working with hemp unlike most crops.

One common theme throughout the field day was that there aren’t really any standards yet.

Growers have been using tools and methods from other procedures to try and produce the best hemp crops they can, but as research and experience progress, industry standards and regulations will become more comprehensive.

Marguerite Bolt, a representative of Purdue University, spoke to the audience about what research and observations have already been done in regards to hemp farming.

“It’s hard to be a specialist in such a new crop. … We’re still sort of in the infancy stage in this state,” Bolt said.

Despite the lack of data, Bolt said the “greatest misinformation” is that hemp is a superplant that is resistant to pests and disease.

Bolt said officials have heard reports of pests like corn earworms eating away at leaf tissue or pathogens like white mold infecting some hemp crops.

Though hemp is susceptible to similar issues as other crops, there aren’t any chemical controls available as of yet.

The only way to monitor and protect hemp is through mechanical controls, making it a labor intensive crop.

While a large portion of the day was spent talking about the risks of growing hemp in such a new environment, Moorman said the event was also to help potential growers learn who they could and couldn't trust to do business with.

There have been several reports of scams within the industry.

For those who aren’t familiar with the hemp industry, Moorman said that though hemp may resemble marijuana, they are not the same.

“Just like every dog is a descendant of a wolf, both hemp and marijuana come from cannabis, but our intent is to heal, not get high,” he said.

Marijuana contains high levels of THC, a psychoactive substance, while hemp contains high levels of CBD, which can be produced into an oil that can be used as a treatment for various health conditions.

As the industry gains more popularity in the state, Moorman said Heartland Harvest hopes to become a hub for the area.