One of Illinois’ first hemp farmers goes back to the basics this harvest season

ROSEVILLE, ILLINOIS  --  It is the middle of harvest season, but there is a new crop coming from rural Warren County, Illinois.  Andy Huston is the founder of American Hemp Research and one of the first farmers in Illinois to legally farm hemp.

"We are going back to the thirties where we gotta do it by hand," Huston said. " This is a lot harder work."

In August of 2018, former Illinois 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.

"It feels like were pioneer days and we`re just starting to figure stuff out," Huston said. "It's all brand new."

Modern farm equipment isn't made for hemp. Huston says he tried to use a combine to harvest his 17 acres of hemp, but the combine isn't grabbing the plants. He says that the crop is too new and there is not hemp specific equipment on the market yet.

"There is just going to be a lot better ways to do it than how we are doing it this year," Huston said.

It's a learning curve for Huston and his team. He harvested hemp on a research grant in 2018, but this year he has more than 90,000 seeds.

"It seems like everybody is using different techniques and using different machinery," American Hemp Research Farmer Logan Bird said.

Tossing the hemp into the combine by hand is more than just hard work, it slows the harvest process down.

"I would say it's probably going to add maybe another week or two," Bird said.

Huston's plants are going to be extracted for CBD Oil. He used two different types of farming techniques on the five different strains of hemp.

The weather also caused harvest problems. Hemp needs to remain dry so it doesn't mold during the bagging process. Huston and his team can't get out into the fields until later in the afternoons, when there is less moisture in the air.

"It's good, dry, material," Huston said. "There's no mold, no dust. It looks really nice. This seems to be working out really well," Huston said.

Huston says cultivating hemp means more weeding, walking, and attention to detail. He is a 6th generation farmer. He also farmed corn and soybeans this year.

"I don`t think there has a day that has gone by all year long that I haven`t been out here," he said.

Huston says Illinois' climate is perfect for the crop. With the moisture in the air and new strains in the works,Huston says  the crop may not have to be irrigated.

"I think we will be able to produce hemp a lot more cost efficiently than the western states."

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