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Dozens show up for meeting on industrial hemp

Published: Apr. 27, 2017 at 10:58 PM CDT
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As the Kansas farm economy struggles farmers are considering anything that can help turn a profit, even if it means changing state law. Thursday dozens showed up to find out more about growing industrial hemp.

"Every state around us is working on it," said one supporter at the event.

Thirty-three states have legalized growing hemp in the last few years. Kansas, which used to be the number two hemp producer before it became illegal, isn't yet one of them.

A relative of the infamous marijuana plant, industrial hemp can be used in thousands of products, from clothes to ropes to cooking oil.

"It's gotten a bad rap," said Kim Sorensen, a farmer from Abbyville attending Thursday's question and answer session in her home town.

One of the biggest questions, could fields of industrial hemp hide illegal marijuana crops? Supporters of the cash crop say, 'No'.

"This plant will ultimately police itself. It will suppress marijuana if it's in that field," Aaron Cromer told the crowd.

An ag producer, Cromer came from Elkhart in southwest Kansas to the Reno County meeting.

He was one of more than 50 farmers and ag producers from across the state crowded into the small room at the old Abbyville High School to get their questions about industrial hemp answered. They say they know hemp will be easy to grow in most of Kansas.

"We mow it down. It's in our ditches, in our pastures. We destroy it," said Sorensen. "But if we can make a crop out of it that does things to help people..."

Most at this meeting say they're looking for a crop that can help them make a profit when other crops won't sell.

"Everybody's struggling just to get to the point that they can break even," said Cromer.

"As the gentleman in the back said, we're losing our shirt. We're losing our butt here. We need to do something and now," Rep. Willie Dove, (R) Bonner Springs, told the gathered crowd.

From urban eastern Kansas, Dove has championed a bill to allow these farmers to grow industrial hemp.

"We're all Kansans. And we need to fight for one another," Dove said. "We should have did (sic) it yesterday. And what I mean by yesterday is a few years ago."

He's urging them to fight for the bill, too. It's passed the Kansas House with a veto-proof majority but has stalled out in the state Senate.

"They need to get off their chairs and take care of business," said Sorensen.

"Educate, educate, educate. Phone calls, emails," Dove told the gathered farmers.

He and others in the room say growing industrial hemp in Kansas isn't just about helping farmers pay the bills but helping the entire state's economy.

"People don't realize that we brought in $650 million of hemp last year from one country, Canada," Dove said. "We cannot allow Kansans to be left out of this equation."

"If you have a bigger profit, it will help the people in town," said Sorensen, "because we would take our dollars to town in the grocery stores, machinery places, car dealerships, clothing stores."

"More tax dollars," said Cromer, "That's the bottom line to it."