Exchange Farming Hemp

Hemp stalks, above, are used for textile and other production, while the plant's seeds are nutritious, and its oil is believed to have health benefits.

It appears that trade talks are coming together with China, according to news reports, and a new deal could be even more beneficial for farmers than before damaging tariffs took effect last summer.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced Friday that China committed to buying an additional 10 million metric tons of U.S. soybeans.

South Dakota’s freshman member of Congress, Dusty Johnson, was in Sioux Falls Feb. 21 as negotiations were underway in Washington, D.C. He understands that tariffs inflict a lot of pain on farmers, he said, but he stands by President Donald Trump’s efforts to revise trade deals with China.

“China has been a pretty bad actor for a long time,” Johnson said. “The entire world is fed up with the games China plays.”

Johnson met with farmers at the Aberdeen Ag Expo Feb. 20 and heard from many producers about financial hardships. He said farmers will benefit as trade deals like the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement are approved.

“Producers always like predictability, but they need it more than ever,” he said.

While China plays a major role in the markets for U.S. soybeans, farmers are starting to look to other crops as a way to diversify rather than depending on a few major crops with a few major markets.

Growing hemp is one new option farmers in some states have under the latest farm bill. The 2014 farm bill allowed states to set up pilot projects to test growing hemp for oil and fiber. North Dakota and Minnesota started trial programs. The 2018 farm bill expanded on those efforts by decriminalizing hemp at a federal level — differentiating the plant from its cannabis cousin, marijuana.

Before farmers can seed their fields to hemp, states need to give the go-ahead. An effort to legalize hemp growth, production and processing was making its way through the South Dakota Legislature. It easily gained approval in the House before Gov. Kristi Noem voiced her opinion that South Dakota is not ready for hemp.

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She has said the state doesn’t have a system to test plants and enforce rules that would ensure hemp growers stay out of the illegal weed business. She also said growing hemp would lead to legalizing marijuana in South Dakota.

While Johnson didn’t vote on the new farm bill, he said that Noem, his predecessor in Congress, is right to ask questions about creating a hemp industry rather than rushing into things. Johnson doesn’t share Noem's concerns about marijuana masquerading as hemp. He said he has learned about the differences between hemp and marijuana.

“I’m a pretty big prude when it comes to drug use,” he said, “and hemp is a very different product than marijuana.”

For the most part, he said the country has reached a level of "educated comfort" about the once-illegal crop and people are ready to include hemp as an agricultural commodity.

“I think our country is comfortable, and that our government shouldn’t get in the way,” he said.

Johnson’s visit to Sioux Falls included a tour of the Southeast Technical Institute campus. He saw how new technology is being used to teach students in nursing, construction, auto repair and other programs.

“Technology is such a big part of these programs,” Johnson said.

He told school leaders he supports their efforts to fill in-demand jobs in South Dakota, and he wants to find a way to recognize high achieving students.

An ag policy discussion at the Farmers Business Network office in Sioux Falls was cancelled because producers were busy moving snow and preparing for more snow in the forecast. Johnson's staff said they will try to reschedule for March or April.

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