Peabody vet county's only hemp grower
Virginia Skinners’ newly cut hemp stalks give off the smell of fresh mint as they hang to dry in an outbuilding in Marion County.
The plants shedding their seeds onto blue plastic tarp are the first of their kind to be harvested legally in Kansas in decades and the only hemp crop in Marion County.
The longtime Peabody veterinarian is grateful to be the only grower in the county issued one of nearly 200 licenses by the Kansas Department of Agriculture as a part of a highly regulated research project. But she said reviving hemp cultivation is not as easy as it seems.
“It’s not for the faint-hearted,” she said, shaking the drying stalks to free the hemp seeds, “I did hear some sad stories.”
As a grower with the project, Skinner had to put together a proposal, undergo a background check and be fingerprinted.
She elected to follow advice and start small after investing several thousand this first year by only sowing ¼ of an acre with VC Star, an approved industrial hemp seed that retails for about $250 a pound.
Sprinklers, a garden hose and record rains helped keep the ground moist until the tiny seeds could germinate.
“We pulled and pulled and pulled the weeds,” she said.
After those hardships, her hemp crop turned out to be easy to grow. The plants thrived in the hot, dry Kansas climate, sprouting eight or nine foot stalks.
“It looked like a forest of fir trees,” she said.
Skinner kept careful records of rainfall, temperature and of the insects the hemp plants attracted to cooperate with research requirements.
“I placed samples in vials,” she said. “Many of them I haven’t been able to identify yet.”
KDA officials tested Skinner’s plants 30 days before harvest and found the amount of THC in her plants to be well below 0.3%.
Plants that test higher than that for THC don’t qualify as hemp. But Skinner’s plants were in the clear. She was free to go ahead and harvest.
Other growers have not been so lucky, she said.
“I heard that a fellow planted a number of acres that tested too high, and he had to destroy the crop,” she said.
A possible cash crop
Industrial hemp plants are grown for seeds, leaves and fiber which can be made into a variety of products. Skinner grew her hemp plants to produce all three as a first-year test.
She let male hemp plants in her crop live so they could pollinate the females and produce hemp seeds. The green leaves of her plants will be used to extract CBD oils. She is still looking for a buyer for both.
But, Skinners said, she is really interested in growing hemp for fiber and is disappointed the state still lacks a plant to process it.
Hemp was widely grown in Kansas in the 1930s and 1940s to make incredibly strong fiber and rope. Now it is used to make everything from canvas and clothing to paper and concrete.
Skinner says hemp products could be a replacement for plastic.
“I believe in getting rid of plastic,” she said. “I will stop to pick it up on the side of the road. I am a pain when it comes to plastic. I hate it out in the ocean. If we grew more hemp, we could help this.”
Skinners’ belief in industrial hemp’s potential is leading her to make plans to try again next year if she can earn back what she spent on licensing and seeds from this crop.
“It would, be nice to make a little profit, she said. “Mostly I would just like to recoup what I spent.”
Last modified Oct. 2, 2019