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'Better late than never' — With hemp now legal, Ohio farmers consider an alternative crop

Farming hemp in Ohio
Posted at 2:44 PM, Aug 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-09 21:01:53-04

MARION COUNTY, Ohio — With hemp now legal in the state of Ohio, one farmer in Marion County is beginning to plan out how he could grow hemp in his own fields if he gets a growing license.

The state is still drafting rules and regulations so people can apply for licenses to grow or process hemp, and Chip Kepford is hoping that framework is put into place soon.

Farming hemp in Ohio
PHOTO: Chip Kepford, who is a board member for the Ohio Hemp Association, stands next to one of his corn fields.

Kepford, who’s been farming in Marion County for more than 40 years, mainly grows corn and soybean, with some specialty crops and winter wheat in the past. But tariffs have left him with a glut of soybeans no one want to buy, and after a tough planting season due to weather conditions, Kepford is looking for an alternative crop. As a board member for the Ohio Hemp Association, he’s looking at hemp and hoping he can get a license to grow it.

“We know the soils are conducive for it,” Kepford said. “As the markets develop, we’re equipped to plant it, fertilize it, harvest it for seed, and even for fiber, baling it. But for the CBD [in the plant’s flower], that’s hand labor. But we can still plant it.”

Farming hemp in Ohio
PHOTO: Seed discs, like this one for soybeans, disperse the seeds from a planter into the ground.

Farmers may not need much to transition from growing soybeans or corn to growing hemp. All it would take, Kepford said, is changing out the seed discs in a planter from one designed for soybeans or one for corn to one designed for hemp’s smaller seeds.

“We might have to get some cleaning equipment and maybe revamp one of our dryers, because you’d have to dry the seeds so it had some shelf life, but it is feasible for about any farm in Ohio, any grain farm in Ohio,” Kepford said.

Hemp seed currently sells at a much higher price than corn or soybean. The concern, though, is where Ohio farmers could sell that hemp seed.

“If there’s a margin that’s profitable, you lose that if you have to haul the crop so far away,” Kepford said.

It’s not clear where there’s a market for hemp seed, since other states have beaten Ohio to the punch in legalizing hemp.

“We don’t know what the rules are. The state of Ohio might regulate all of us out of it,” Kepford said. “We don’t know. We know there’s going to be fees.”

Still, Kepford said of Ohio’s legalization of the plant, “better late than never.”

Last week, the Ohio Department of Agriculture planted the state’s first legal hemp crop at the department’s campus.