RURAL ELGIN, N.D. — Clarence Laub lets warm hemp seeds pour through his hands, the fruit of an unusual harvest in North Dakota’s commodity lineup.
This is the first year that hemp is a legal crop in the state under an experimental program through the State Agriculture Department. It includes five growers, including Laub, and a small plot at the Langdon Research Extension Center.
The leafy cannabis cousin is prohibited by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, but states are pushing back and, last year, Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed a bill approving an industrial hemp program for commercial and research purposes. Growers applied, were approved and supplied with Canadian hemp varieties.
Laub harvested his 10 acres a few days ago but says only five acres were truly viable because of varied seed depth at planting and the timing of rains that followed.
“I harvested all of it, even through the open, weedy areas. If I had left those, I don’t think it would’ve made much difference in the yield,” he said.
The rangy plants with heavy seed clusters at their six-foot tops yielded about 5,000 pounds of rich-looking brown-green seed spread on ground tarps to dry in the warm September sunlight.
Laub’s already working with a crusher in Carrington, who will press the seeds for oil and grind the remaining seed into hemp flour. He figures about 35 percent of the seed will be reduced to oil, sought-after for soaps and lotions. The flour is so protein-dense it can be substituted, gram per gram, for red meat protein, he said.
He’s planning to sell the oil and flour under the “Laub Farm” label at a seasonal N.D. Embroidery and Gifts store at Kirkwood Mall in Bismarck.
That yield — roughly 1,000 pounds of seed per acre — squares with what program director Rachel Spilde said the other producers are reporting, ranging from 860 pounds to 1,125 pounds an acre. There’s a nice little spread between an input cost of $280, reported by one grower, and a crop value of $1 a pound.
“That’s better than a lot of commodities right now,” Spilde said.
She said the department plans to conduct the hemp research program again next year and will announce in October when applications are due. Growers that are approved will have to match whatever research priorities are established for the 2017 program, she said.
“Without a doubt, there was a lot of value in this program. There were some good yields and very few hiccups,” she said.
Laub said the experience was as interesting as the plant, which put on growth of 18 inches a week and if male, died out after spreading a visible cloud of pollen.
“It was definitely more interesting than other crops. There’s a lot of promise in hemp and potentially big revenue for the farm as we get further into production and development,” Laub said.