Vehicles with license plates stretched across Nebraska and into Iowa and Missouri parked in lines three-cars deep just off Interstate 80 at what used to be a dilapidated dinosaur museum for an entire Friday morning. Reminiscent of a barn, the old building may not have seen that many visitors on its best days as a house for artistic dinosaur renderings.
Farmers, ranchers and enthusiasts initially sat outside, surrounded by several advertiser tents to learn about hemp at the Morning for Hemp in Nebraska: Six Feet Apart Hands-On Hemp Forum on July 24. The scheduled five-hour seminar featured walking tours, slideshow presentations, pamphlets, views of budding hemp plants and a demonstration of technology used to further innovation in Nebraska's latest agricultural endeavor.
One presentation started outside under the forgiving shade of a tent. Like an interactive revival tent, those in attendance heard presentations by hemp growers and asked questions as their curiosity perked. Perhaps, if they hadn't made the leap to hemp growth already, this could be the time. Another group went indoors for a different presentation, this one conducted by the budding Doane University Cannabis Testing Laboratories involving slides for information.
Check the preconceived notions on hemp. Yes, a decorative rope strung with hemp gave the presentation room the distinct odor of a Grateful Dead concert that passed through within the past 15 years. Beyond that each person who spoke meant complete business because that's what brought the forum to the former museum behind a gas station that serves recommended fried chicken.
Alex Seyfert of the Midwest Hemp Forum ran through the history of hemp from its 8000 B.C. origins until 2 years ago when the 2018 Farm Bill declassified hemp as a level 1 narcotic. That allowed hemp to be grown throughout the fields of Midwest America once again.
Seyfert explained that while hemp forums were already heavily attended in Clatonia, David City, York, Pilger, Syracuse and Neligh, this Milford event was more interactive than demonstrative.
“Whereas our last six forums have been more of classroom-type events for agricultural producers, this event will be more like a field-trip,” Seyfert said. Hand sanitizer and masks were available at the sign-in sheet area before attendees were split into groups.
Dr. Andrea Holmes and her team of Doane University chemistry professors overseeing the school's Cannabis Testing Laboratories made their presentation before Dan Green of Agri-Inject. Doane professors walked those in attendance through the steps of actually growing hemp plants and what needs to be done if producers submit hemp plants for testing through the USDA.
Dr. Arin Sutlief reminded those in attendance that Doane offers online courses on growth. Unlike other online educational courses, Doane's eight-week program is more intensive and comes with quizzes, exams and instructions. Then she went through the testing standards for hemp growth to ensure all growers meet USDA regulations.
“It's critical that what goes on the shelf at a dispensary is tested,” Holmes said, “because it needs to be safe.”
By law, hemp plants can't be more than 0.3 percent THC. So potency testing is key, as some plants develop more potency than others, per the unpredictability of agriculture. Currently the USDA does random testing throughout a field, taking a number of tests in proportion to the acreage, and testing at least 15 days before harvest. Those samples are taken and made into a composite sample for testing.
Due to legal logistics, Nebraska producers of hemp can't see their crop through. Once it goes through Doane or a plant in Kentucky for testing, it goes out of the state and doesn't return investments. One person helping present instructed attendees to contact their local newspaper and state representative to “ensure Nebraskan tax dollars and labor is returned to the Nebraska economy.”
For all its many uses, the hemp plant may be most desirable for its root system, which cleans soil of steels and toxins. Replenishing the soil, cultivating the Earth for further use, allured some in their seats. During a show of hands one current hemp farmer who came to the forum from his ranch near Sidney, said he's had to grow the hemp in a greenhouse due to the extreme winds. Others nodded and an agricultural brainstorm occurred.
The forum, at points like that, resembled he one table inside a Midwestern gas station at breakfast. Farmers getting together for their coffee, talking about the rain and current crop. How do they get the most out of each yield.
That's what hemp has become. The next innovation in a series of progressive steps. Farmers and ranchers listened intently and asked questions how they could get involved. Now's the time to get in, one farmer said, or else risk being left behind.
*** Correction: The Midwest Hemp Exchange representative that gave a historical recap of hemp was Alex Seyfert. The story originally listed that representative as Collin Fury, who left the Midwest Hemp Exchange prior to the Forum. ***