Kansas farmers push for legalization of industrial hemp

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A growing number of farmers in Kansas are looking to change up what crops they plant each year. One of those changes - industrial hemp.

Right now Kansas farmers have an overabundance of four main crops: wheat, soybeans, milo and corn. That's driven prices down, and has many farmers looking for alternatives.

Near Abbyville Kansas, wheat fields are sprawling, but some farmers in the area are looking to replace the fields with something else.

"We've been growing corn, soybeans, wheat and milo but this year I'm taking milo out of the rotation and I'm adding cotton." said Steve Dillon. He and other farmers are making the switch to cotton. "The profit potential for cotton is higher than anything else."

It could be a solution for the low grain prices they've been seeing. "We came through the really good years, with seven dollar corn and 13 dollar beans, and now we're going to the other extreme with 3 dollar corn and 3 dollar wheat." he said.

But a growing number of farmers are looking at another cash crop...industrial hemp - a variety of cannabis bred for industrial use, that contains around one-tenth the amount of THC found in marijuana.

"They need something to do with their land and they can see right now, the crops they have are just not bringing anything and the future is just not that good." said Rock Gagnebin. He's part of a movement to legalize industrial hemp for farmers.

"It's easy to grow. I fought it for years in pastures and you can't really kill it. It takes a third of the water, so you don't need a circle to grow it. Doesn't take any pesticides of herbicides, takes a little bit of fertilizer"

That's something that would be particularly helpful to farmers in Western Kansas. "Lack of water, aquifer getting lower on circles...controlling how much water's being used...if you have hemp you shouldn't need to water. I mean the stuff will just grow."

But Steve Dillon still has concerns. "There's no place to go with it and what are you gonna do with it?"

To that, Rock has an answer.

"if the bill passes, people will start thinking about the processing and what we're gonna do with it. Otherwise no one is ever gonna think about it. you gotta get a bill passed first."

The bill has already made it's way through the Kansas house, and is waiting to be reviewed by the Senate.

Thursday afternoon, Rock and others from Kansans for Hemp will be hosting an informational gathering in Abbyville. Information on where that will be can be found on their Facebook page.