Roseville Farmer Looks to Grow the Illinois Hemp Industry
Research, education and infrastructure are critical to the fledgling Illinois hemp industry, according to Andy Huston, chief executive officer of American Hemp Research near Roseville.
Huston and his brother, Frank, farm 2,300 acres of corn and soybeans. In 2014, they entered the cannabis business as Illinois allowed for medical marijuana, opening a dispensary in Canton the following November. It was a unique business opportunity, but Huston soon found it was much more.
“I worked in the dispensary during the first six months that we were open, and it was amazing to me the benefits people were getting out of the medical marijuana,” he says. “I could literally see improvements in people over a two- or three-month period from when they first started coming into our store. I could tell that they just looked better.”
In 2018, the Hustons began a research project with Western Illinois University to study how hemp grows in the state. Now they raise industrial hemp and process it on the farm, offering their own line of cannabidiol (CBD) products. They also work with hemp breeders to distribute seed to other growers.
When the 2018 farm bill provided farmers with the opportunity to grow hemp legally in Illinois, the Huston brothers were happy to share their experiences as they worked to further develop the industry.
See more: 5 Farm Facts About Hemp
Due to an Illinois government leadership change in late 2018, coupled with challenging weather in 2019, things were hectic for beginning hemp growers. Huston notes that the Illinois Department of Agriculture worked hard to provide assistance and resources to those interested in growing hemp. However, a lack of processors presented another problem.
“In the hemp industry in Illinois and a lot of other states, there are basically three things that they lack: research, education and infrastructure,” Huston says.
American Hemp Research is working to improve these areas. Climate and soil types in Illinois are different than those in Colorado or Oregon. The company has conducted trials comparing irrigated and nonirrigated land, as well as different seeding techniques, including direct seeding and transplanting. Huston is in contact with the University of Illinois almost daily regarding hemp production and has participated in many speaking engagements on behalf of University of Illinois Extension. He is encouraged by the increasing number of processors that will help provide infrastructure and more marketing opportunities for Illinois hemp growers.
“Hemp will end up like every other commodity out there eventually,” Huston says. “You’re going to have to be as cost-effective as possible to maintain a profit margin, so we’re trying to figure out how to grow it as economically as possible.”
A Growing Industry
American Hemp Research released a CBD product line in February 2020. Products are available through an online store, but advertising opportunities are limited. Huston says it is important that more entities differentiate between marijuana and hemp.
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To learn more about industrial hemp, visit americanhempresearch.com.
“When we first went to get a bank account for hemp, they wouldn’t do it because both hemp and marijuana were classified as cannabis,” Huston says. “That’s what we’re dealing with on advertising. Eventually, we hope they will realize that hemp is no longer an illegal product.”
Huston says Food and Drug Administration guidelines are another hurdle, as many companies want to put CBD into their products, from lip balms to soft drinks to beer. Huston encourages potential growers to do some research and to start small.
“It’s a brand-new industry,” he says. “It’s just going to take time to get everything in place. But eventually, it will be there, as far as being a good, solid industry.”