The second season of legal hemp growing is coming in Illinois. State experts are sharing what they know — and don’t — as more people express interest in growing it.
University of Illinois Extension Educator Phillip Alberti leads workshops on hemp. He said its fiber can be used in everything from clothing to auto parts, and its seeds can be used as food. Most lucrative are its oils that are touted for a list of therapeutic benefits. He said there remains a lot of uncertainty, and balance is likely a key to success.
“This could be something," he said, "where you’re doing a small level of production. You know, a high level of profitability. But finding that sweet spot between this typical specialty crop and then, say, row crop production.”
But, he said, it’s a new and evolving industry and those interested in growing hemp need to do their homework.
“They can successfully hop into this industry if they start small and talk to people upfront," he said, "whether that’s their seed distributors, [or] the processors. Knowing where you’re going to go on each step of the way is going to be paramount.”
Hemp farmers must not only contend with weeds, worms and weather. They also must make sure the plants’ level of THC — the intoxicant in cannabis — remains below a certain threshold. If not, legally it must be destroyed. And that threshold drops after this year, when Illinois’ standard is replaced by the much more stringent federal benchmark.