Hemp farmers, processors embarking on 'new frontier' in Kansas agriculture

NEWTON, Kan. (KWCH) Hemp production in Kansas is proving to be a new frontier. With that, farmers growing the crop, as well as facilities that turn the hemp into oils, materials and grains, say they have a lot to learn.

In Reno County, farmer Bob Hiatt is one of nearly 200 Kansas farmers licensed by the state to grow hemp.

"It’s been very stressful, been a lot of work. A lot of what we do is manual. There’s not a lot of machines to do the work that most farmers do," says Bob Hiatt.

On his eight acres of growing hemp, the first year had its challenges but yielded a good harvest.

The same can't be said for other farmers, but much of what survived a tough weather year is headed to about 35 facilities licensed to process the crop.

"The most underestimated piece of growing hemp is drying. You know, what do you do when it’s out of the field. Many farmers don’t realize the need to get it off the field, into a drier immediately. Otherwise, it could compost, it could mold, and that destroys any opportunity for CBD extraction or any value post-harvest," says Christian Coleman, president of Sunnyland Kansas, a facility that processes hemp.

Coleman opened his hemp-processing business two months ago.

"It was hard press for about 60 days," said Christian Coleman. "We got the facility, we got the dryer in place, and now we’ve started the operation quite successfully."

They have more plans to grow their business.

"We started with the drying operation; this is step one. We have our farm in Butler County that hopefully be planting in early May or June," he says. "We intend to build an extraction operation on the same property as our drying facility, so within the next six months, we become a one-stop-shop."

It's a family operation.

"Our cousin, my aunt, my mom, my dad, everybody's involved, everybody is pitching in," Coleman says. It's just been amazing."

They're setting up their Kansas business after Christian's father Sheldon got the family started in this crop three years ago.

"We realized we could bring our expertise from Oregan and all of our partnerships and relationships, the depth of experience we have, and come home to Kansas and back into the Wichita area," says Sheldon Coleman, co-owner of Sunnyland Kansas.

When Kansas approved industrial hemp, he saw it as an opportunity to come back.

"We’re from the Coleman’s of the Coleman company," says Sheldon Coleman.

The hope for Coleman and his family is for help to thrive in Kansas.

"The industry is just beginning," he says.

It's as many are already looking ahead to year two.