By Tim Farley
EL RENO – Redlands Community College has undertaken a research-based industrial hemp program that has the potential to help farmers make more money.
An industrial hemp pilot program measure was approved by the Oklahoma Legislature this year as an economic development tool for rural Oklahoma. Gov. Mary Fallin signed the bill during the 2018 legislative session.
Redlands’ primary partner in the industrial hemp program is Botannac LLC, an Oklahoma-based certified seed vendor.
RCC’s research program during the first year of the two-year pilot will focus on two types of seeds that deal with grain and fiber production and cannabidiol (CBD) oil.
“Industrial hemp is about as diverse as you can get,” RCC President Jack Bryant said.
“From the fiber seed, you can make insulation that is fire retardant, clothing, rope and bedding material for livestock. The uses are unlimited.”
Industrial hemp also can be used to produce hempcrete, which is a substitute for concrete. Hempcrete is lighter and is mold resistant.
As a historical side note, the material used by Betsy Ross to sew the American flag was made from hemp fiber, Bryant said.
“This pilot program will help determine the markets for our farmers,” the RCC president said. “Yes, this could be an economic boom for Oklahoma because it (hemp) is such a diverse plant.”
Farmers may elect to participate in the CBD seed program. This particular CBD seed, Cherry Wine, produces a higher yield and heavy concentrate of CBD. All of the CBD seeds must be certified to be below the .03 level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Whether participating farmers select the fiber and grain program or the CBD program, researchers will work to determine the best growing conditions and seasons for each seed. The CBD seeds will be grown indoor and the fiber and grain seeds will be grown outside.
The fiber crops will be cut and bound into bails and taken to processing plants to the end producers.
“Out there (in the fields), we’ll be working with the state Department of Agriculture with soil samples and checking annual rainfall,” Bryant said.
During the pilot program, researchers will try to determine the best growing season for the fiber seeds.
“If they plant early enough, they can plant early spring and get a summer harvest or plant early summer and get an early fall harvest. This has never been done in Oklahoma so this is all research at this point. Even the different parts of the state will have different frost dates. What works best in one region might not work that well in another,” he said.
Hemp is the strongest natural fiber in the world and has been found to have more than 50,000 uses including rope, clothes, food, paper, textiles, plastics, insulation and biofuel.
Being a weed, it is drought tolerant taking one-third the amount of water of alfalfa. The benefits of cultivating hemp is that it can yield 3-8 dry tons of fiber per acre per year, which is four times what an average forest can yield and it does not require chemicals such as pesticides or herbicides. Hemp could yield Oklahoma farmers as much as $1,500 per acre.
Oklahoma’s hemp law, which went into effect upon being signed, was made possible by the federal Agricultural Act of 2014 allowing the growing of hemp under pilot programs overseen by universities. Nearly 40 other states already have industrial hemp programs.
State Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R-Tuttle), one of the authors of the state’s hemp bill, said he was pleased Redlands got involved as quickly as it did.
“Redlands just took the bull by the horn and moved forward with it,” he said. “There’s already some fields planted.”
“There’s been a tremendous interest from farmers to the people who provide the seeds,” he said. “Next year, there should be more acres planted and more colleges participating.”