116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Scott and Megan Booher have worked on a lavender farm and been part of the legal cannabis industry in California, but their first season growing hemp in Iowa was a learning experience.
First, there was wild hemp pollen and corn borer worms to avoid. Then the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho knocked their acre of hemp plants flat.
“Luckily, they were small enough we could stand them back up,” said Scott Booher, 42, of Homestead, south of Amana. “In the end, we felt really fortunate to have a harvest.”
Last year was Iowa’s first year of legal hemp farming. The state granted 85 licenses to growers in 48 counties who filed planting reports on a combined 680 acres, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship reported. The Boohers’ Four Winds Farm LLC got one of five licenses in Johnson County. One license was granted for Linn County.
Many growers are interested in cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-intoxicating compound being included in everything from lotions to energy drinks. The Boohers plan to use their crops to create CBD concentrate that will go into Megan’s handmade lotions, salves and creams.
“Megan has been a key player in taking the hemp farm to the next level,” Scott Booher said of his wife.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the Iowa Hemp Act in 2019, allowing the Agriculture Department to develop a state plan for licensed farmers to grow up to 40 acres of industrial hemp for products including rope, paper, food and oils. The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved Iowa’s program in March 2020.
One thing that nearly held up Iowa’s program was a disagreement between state and federal officials about when a farmer can be turned over to law enforcement because of crops that test too high for tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Plants that have more than 0.3 percent THC, which creates the “high” feeling, are considered marijuana, which is illegal to grow in Iowa outside the state’s medical marijuana program.
Iowa law says hemp crops that test greater than 0.3 percent must be destroyed. In 2020, Iowa ran 123 samples to test for THC and 16 failed for various acreages, said Robin Pruisner, state hemp administrator and ag security coordinator.
“I do not have a count of acres for destroyed crops,” she said. “We learned a great deal last year about what data to collect, we will have those numbers for the 2021 season.”
United States Hemp, a company led by Dr. Allen Stoye, of Johnston, grew hemp in three Iowa locations last year, including a 35-acre plot near Central City, Stoye said. The Linn County crop had too much THC and had to be plowed under, Stoye said.
“That particular crop went hot,” he said.
Although the company had been testing the hemp regularly over the summer, and a week before the state inspection the THC levels were below the state limit, the state’s test showed it was above 0.3, Stoye said.
“Because we want to be in this business in the state of Iowa, we didn’t challenge it,” he said.
Stoye, an anesthesiologist and a veteran, said he’s been interested in whether CBD can help control pain. But federal restrictions haven’t allowed much research, so doctors and pharmacists don’t know whether it’s safe or how much to prescribe. United States Hemp plans to partner with another company this year to grow hemp in greenhouses, while searching for more markets for hemp biomass, Stoye said.
“We were hoping this would become a commodity, but we’re not yet at that point,” he said. “It’s not like the corn co-op, where you bring your crop to the co-op and you’ll get X, Y, Z.”
A license to legally grow hemp in Iowa costs between $500 and $1,150 a year and at least $1,000 to inspect and test pre-harvest crops to determine THC levels. The hemp program brought in $182,025 in fees in 2020.
So far, 17 Iowa growers are licensed for 2021. Licenses to plant outdoors must be in by May 1, but there is no deadline for indoor applications. The application process this year is online at hemp.iowaagriculture.gov/landing.
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