MOSES LAKE, Wash. — A Grant County farmer has planted 75 irrigated acres of hemp, becoming the first Washington grower to try a crop that remains a federally controlled substance, but can be cultivated under state supervision.
Shane Palmer, whose family farms about 3,000 acres near Moses Lake, put in 70 acres Friday. On Tuesday, he dropped seeds into the other 5 acres in front of about two dozen people, including prospective hemp farmers.
“I like to get my feet wet with new things,” Palmer said. “It’s something to play with.”
The planting was another step in returning hemp to U.S. agriculture. The 2014 Farm Bill allowed states to legalize hemp cultivation as long as farmers were licensed and supervised by state agriculture departments.
State Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, watched Tuesday’s planting, which was in her district.
She said that she had once been skeptical of hemp because of its connection with marijuana — both are cannabis plants, and federal law does not distinguish between hemp and marijuana.
“The more I hear about it, the less skeptical I am about it,” she said. “I’m optimistic this can be another crop for our farmers here. We have the best ground in the state, I believe.”
Hemp fields must be at least 4 miles from marijuana farms to guard against cross-pollination and must be periodically tested by the state Department of Agriculture to make sure the plants stay low in THC.
So far, WSDA has issued licenses to grow hemp to Palmer and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. Palmer’s business associate, Cory Sharp of HempLogic, has received a license to distribute seed. Five other applications to grow or process hemp are pending, WSDA hemp coordinator Emily Febles said.
Palmer’s planting of hemp Tuesday, next to a field of corn, highlighted a daylong workshop on growing and processing hemp. The farm’s crops include corn, peas, bluegrass seed, hay and buckwheat. Palmer said that he hopes hemp can became another crop to put in rotation. “With commodity prices down,” he said, “most crops that we’re growing are not very profitable.”
He said that he expects to harvest waist- to chest-high hemp by the end of September.
What will happen then remains unclear. Hemp seeds can be eaten raw or used as an ingredient. The fiber can be used for a variety of products, including textiles and building materials. WSDA rules require that hemp grown in Washington be processed in state.
Processing the fiber will take more capital investment than harvesting the hemp as a grain, Sharp said.
“We have no idea where the end product is going to end up,” he said. “Until someone writes us a check, the risk is still there.”
While the market is uncertain, the planting was a celebratory event. Sharp described the emotional ups and downs of just getting seeds to put in the ground.
Because fertile hemp seeds are a federally controlled substance, WSDA had to obtain permission from the Drug Enforcement Administration to import seeds from Canada. There were some snags at the border, Sharp said. “One piece of paper out of order, and the seed doesn’t come across the line.”