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In the 70 years that High Plains Journal has been in publication the editorial staff has seen and written about plenty of booms and busts in agricultural trends.

We were there when the first wells were sunk to the Ogallala Aquifer, bringing irrigation and kicking off a corn boom. We were there when the “feedlot” concept came to western Kansas and spread throughout the High Plains, just one more step in our region’s cattle boom that was started by the cattle drives. We’ve seen and written about cover crops, cotton, and canola—and each topic has seen a rise and fall in popularity over the years as the winds of agriculture shift.

I’m not sure if ever in the 70 years of publication we’ve put a photo of a cannabis plant on the cover of High Plains Journal. But something tells me that it won’t be the last story we write about industrial hemp production coming to our coverage area. It’s just one more boom that we’re reporting so that you readers have the information you need to make decisions that will affect your farm.

Is hemp the next salvation of farm country? Well, our crystal ball is in the shop and the parts are on backorder so we can’t really say for certain. But, like any boom that we’ve reported on over the years, it’s going to depend on a lot of factors falling into place, at the right time, with the right people.

It’s not just that hemp can be used in so many different products, from fiber to the lucrative CBD oil market. Or, that industrial hemp has so many agronomic benefits to soils and resources. No one disputes all that. What will be the key hurdles to overcome is just producing, processing, transporting and marketing a crop that is at once legal under federal guidelines and yet dances a fine line depending on the state in which you happen to reside.

No one requires you to pay for a license and criminal background checks to grow wheat, corn or soybeans. Your trucker doesn’t have to have a pristine cargo manifest to cross some state lines with a load of sorghum or risk winding up in jail while testing is done on the cargo. There are delivery points every 20 miles for your grain and cooperatives that manage the risk and marketing once it’s in their storage bins.

And there’s no side eye from neighbors sitting in the pews at church if you’re raising a field of cotton next to the highway.

Industrial hemp, though, is quite literally growing this cropping and marketing chain from the ground up. From farmers committing to go the extra lengths to obtain licensing and produce the crop, to some hardy souls testing the transportation and manufacturing waters, to communities and law enforcement accepting that hemp is not a criminal enterprise, there’s so many points where this chain could break.

So, it’s going to take patience and persistence if this hype turns into a boom. This isn’t a “one and done” crop. The stakes are just too high. It’s going to take years, maybe even decades, before we see any sort of return on the investments being made today. Just like any other trend, if you go into it with your eyes open, and you’ve managed your expectations, you just might find success.

And just like we’ve done for 70 years, you can expect High Plains Journal to continue to ask questions and write about this trend so that you’re informed.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or jlatzke@hpj.com.

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