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Illinois’ one and only hemp farmer expects it to be the state’s next big cash crop

ROSEVILLE, Illinois  --   A whole new crop is growing in Warren County. Sixth generation Roseville farmer, Andy Huston, is the first and only farmer in the state with a research permit to grow hemp.

"It could be very beneficial to the farm economy, rural Illinois, and rural America," Huston said.

Huston got his research permit from a partnership with Western Illinois University.

"We’re trying to perfect techniques that will help people grow it," Huston said. "That's kind of the research end of it.”

In August of 2018, former Governor Bruce Rauner signed the Industrial Hemp Act. That act legalized the growth of hemp in the state. In December 2018, Congress passed a farm bill legalizing industrial hemp production in the United States. Now, CBD oil extracted in Illinois can be sold to other states. Huston says Illinois is finalizing production rules and then will issue growing and selling permits to farmers interested.

"If farmers are interested in growing hemp, they can come to me, and I can supply them,” Hutson said. “The seeds we have are one strain, but we have access to a lot of other strains.”

When the plant is fully grown, it may look like a marijuana plant, but hemp won't get anyone high.

"The difference between hemp and marijuana is the THC level, that's what gets you high,” Hutson said. "These plants only carry .3% THC. When the plants start to mature, that's when you need to watch the THC levels. When they start to get to that threshold, you’ll need to harvest, so they don’t go over the .3 %.”

Huston and his team are harvesting more than 100 hemp plants inside, until spring.

"Indoor the hemp will always grow better," outdoor hemp specialist Mateo Gillen said. "But, an open environment allows hemp to grow a lot bigger, maybe three or four times the size of an indoor plant.”

They plan to have an indoor hemp crop and an outdoor hemp crop, all to harvest and extract CBD oil from.

"We’re gonna try different populations and planting to see what works and what doesn’t," Huston said.

"With corn and soybeans, we use a combine," Gillen said. "With this, we’re out there doing it all by hand. I was out there with a chainsaw, cutting each plant down individually and loading them up on a trailer."

Huston says he hopes to get an extraction machine and start selling his own CBD oil by July 2019.

"This blows corn and soybeans out of the water, Hutson said. "Every acre we take away from corn and soybeans will help corn and soybean pricing. If the hemp can be another thing we throw in the mix, then it can benefit everyone."

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