SHENANDOAH — In Iowa’s proverbial sea of corn and soybean fields, State Sen. Tom Shipley wants to add a ripple to those waves — industrial hemp.
Shipley, a Republican whose district includes portions of Adams, Cass, Pottawattamie and Union Counties, was the guest speaker April 5 at the Shenandoah Chamber and Industry Association and agricultural annual banquet.
“I and others have invested a ton of time,” he said about his research of allowing and promoting the plant to be grown in Iowa.
His work was given a boost by the 2018 Farm Bill that includes the growth of hemp. Shipley said he does not expect hemp to be allowed in Iowa this year.
“Hemp can make better rope than nylon,” Shipley said. The plant can be used for more than just rope as hemp is used in fabric for clothing, oils and a “host of other things.”
Shipley was specific and emphasized the difference between hemp and marijuana.
“It’s not the same thing,” he said.
According to the Farm Bill, hemp cannot contain more than .3 percent THC, which is the element that creates the psychoactive response when consumed. Any plant with an amount greater than .3 percent would be non-hemp cannabis, or marijuana, and that is not protected in the Farm Bill.
“You couldn’t get high,” he said about the hemp stated in the Farm Bill. “There is not enough to do anything to you.”
Shipley compared hemp and marijuana to alfalfa and soybeans, which are both legumes, but are used differently when harvested.
Hemp is not new to Iowa. During his research, Shipley discovered hemp was grown in Iowa during World War II. Last year, the United States imported about $880 million in hemp “and it’s bigger this year” as the United States is the world’s largest hemp consumer. Much of the hemp for the United States is from Canada and China.
Shipley does not want large amounts of hemp fields in Iowa. He is suggesting having more farmers grow the plant rather than have it concentrated with just a few operators.
“We want this spread around,” he said.
To meet USDA permits, Shipley suggested the fee to grow up to five acres is $500. Fields up to 10 acres would cost $750 and more than 10 acres would cost $1,000. Shipley wants a maximum of 40 acres per permit.
According to agricultural publications, hemp is drilled in like wheat. The top of the industrial hemp plant is used for seed production and the stem is used for other purposes.
But growing industrial hemp is only one part of the equation. Typical harvest equipment used for corn and soybeans is not ideal for harvesting hemp as the plant can easily get jammed. Shipley said there is equipment available intended for hemp harvesting. He has been told hemp is harvested in big, square bales.
Shipley did not have an approximate value on hemp.
A processing plant would also be needed. Shipley knows of one in Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Hemp can be used for clothing, biofuels, paper, building materials and foods. Industrial hemp oil is similar to fish oil that has benefits.
“Clothing with hemp will last forever,” he said.
Shipley said states that have a strong economy with cotton are fighting the expansion of industrial hemp, although Kentucky, which grows cotton, is a state that allows industrial hemp production. Colorado is another state allowing industrial hemp.
Part of the 2017 tax reform bill, Shenandoah could be a location for an industrial hemp processing plant. Shenandoah Chamber and Industry Association Executive Vice President Gregg Connell said Shenandoah is one of 62 sites in Iowa where investors can spend their capital gains and receive some tax incentives.
“It’s sad we haven’t been able to get here,” Shipley said about industrial hemp growth.
He was first elected to state legislature in 2014. He serves on agriculture, judiciary, labor and business relations and environment committees.