WILLISTON — Western North Dakota has a good shot at becoming home to the state’s first industrial hemp facility.
Newly formed Quality Agricultural Products, based in Fargo, announced Monday their intentions to build a hemp facility somewhere in North Dakota. Wendy McCord said initial research on land costs has indicated a slightly more favorable picture in the western part of the state. Although that is just one of the considerations, it gives certain parts of the region a potential advantage for an emerging crop that is already showing promise as a valuable commodity in the state.
“There are a lot of factors going into the site selection,” said Will Wiebolt, another spokesperson for QAP. “It’s going to come down to the economics at the local level, the distribution methods as well as the local people, how they feel about it. We have a lot of work ahead of us to choose that location. We are definitely not ruling anywhere out.”
The industrial plant they propose will be a one- to five-acre high-technology indoor growing facility costing between $12 and $20 million. While the facility’s initial product will be hemp, it will also be built so it could expand into medical cannabis, should that become legal.
The facility would create 20 to 25 new jobs, at wages that will be kept competitive with those in whatever region is ultimately selected, Weibolt said.
Step one of the process will be feasibility studies to determine the best location, as well as to look at which locations have the greatest economic benefit from such a facility.
“This venture is exciting for us and our state,” Wiebolt said. “building a facility that can grow industrial hemp now and potentially other in-demand crops later on a large scale would be a big step forward for agriculture in North Dakota.”
QAP will form an advisory board with members from various industries, including law enforcement, farming, pharmacy, technology and education to assist the company in addressing the complexities of building such a facility in the state. Wiebolt indicated they want to consider citizen input as well, and hope to hear from people in the state about the idea.
Hemp is an emerging new crop for North Dakota, which is among 13 states to legalize the commodity under the 2014 Farm Bill. NDSU gained a license from the Drug Enforcement Agency to begin variety trials in 2015, and from that research determined it is a crop well-adapted to North Dakota. They grew 12 varieties at Langdon Research Farm, including six from nearby Canada, and obtained comparable yields to Canada.
The state, meanwhile, collected 17 applications from growers for their pilot project for 2016, 11 of which met the program’s criteria. An advisory board is to meet Monday to discuss the applications and decide which will receive the DEA-licensed seeds. One of the applications is from a Williams County grower located in Ray.
Meanwhile, there is federal legislation pending that could remove industrial hemp from the list of scheduled substances. If approved, that could dramatically speed hemp’s arrival in the North Dakota landscape.
McCord said there is already growing demand for hemp products in the natio, with hemp oil and related products sold tallying $580 million dollars this year. Another $500 million worth of hemp products were imported in the same period.
“Clearly demand is there,” McCord said, “and we’ve already had people contacting us to ask if we’d consider doing hemp fiber instead of oil.”
Among recent contacts were Greta Gramig, a weed scientist with NDSU. She used hemp purchased from a Canadian supplier to test its properties for weed control. She thought the company would be interested in the data from her research.
“It was very durable and suppressed weeds very effectively,” Gramig said. “It was similar to paper mulch, and both were better than hay or straw mulch.”
Hemp, she said, may prove to be more advantageous than paper, however, as the study progresses. It tends to be more durable than paper, and she suspects it will last longer.
Hemp seeds and the fibrous parts of the stalk are its most economically value parts, but Gramig believes the rest could be useful as a mulch one day, if the product is domestically produced.
“Right now the imported mulch material is so expensive that it isn’t cost-efficient, but I’m hoping that if domestic production of hemp becomes a reality, we could see the costs come down. I think this would be a product that would interest home gardeners.”
Meanwhile, another NDSU researcher is looking into the possibility of making plastics from hemp, and that could be just the beginning of possible uses for a hemp crop, and the tip of a new economic behemoth in North Dakota.
Hemp growth has been prohibited since 1950 because of its resemblance to marijuana. However, unlike marijuana, hemp contains less than 1 percent THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that gives it those hallucinatory properties.
Hemp has generally been used for its fiber and its oil for the past 12,000 or more years. While growing is prohibited its products may be sold in the U.S. legally.