Hemp farmers discuss challenges

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INDIANOLA, Ill. (WCIA) — As we head closer to January, and legal recreational marijuana in Illinois, one industry already has a year of experience in a similar field. We’re talking about growing hemp. Some Illinois farmers say, despite it being legal,their first year growing has been far from easy.

With anything new, there are some kinks to work out. Aside from the challenges that come along with learning to grow a new plant, farmers like Shelly Wilken say there are also a lot of legal concerns.

“It’s an all-year process. You don’t just plant it and walk away from it,” said Wilken.

Some might call it a labor of love, but Wilken’s passion for helping people manage their pain with hemp, comes with its fair share of labor.

“My massage therapy business that I’ve been doing for about nine years now lead me to this,” said Wilken. “I really wasn’t satisfied with the quality of products that I was finding out there on the market, so I wanted to learn all I could about the hemp itself.”

Thanks to the Farm Bill, passed in Illinois in 2018, she could. Wilken planted her first round of hemp plants in early June and harvested in mid-October, but she’s coming out of her first season with a lot of lessons.

“Facebook shut me down for a week because I had so many inquiries about my CBD products, which is legal. There’s only 0.3% of THC in it.”

It also led to roadblocks with banking.

“U.S. bank, they shut us down in March, and I had to find a different credit card professor for my online store.”

A bill headed to the state senate could make it easier for hemp farmers to deal with banks. It’s called the Safe Banking Act, and it just passed the house. It aims to help make banks more hemp-friendly. However, the list of issues doesn’t end there for Wilken. She also dealt with security issues.

“I did have a couple plants stolen, which that’s kindof violating.”

Wilken isn’t alone. Matt Farrell farmed 20 acres of hemp farmland in Enfield, IL this year. He says there’s a learning curve for everyone entering the industry.

“What farmers are running into is that the infrastructure isn’t here in Illinois yet,” said Farrell. “What we all shared was the burden of inexperience.”

But Farrell’s doing his part to make it easier for others. He has a nursery in Enfield, IL called 3M nurseries where people can go to get feminized seeds. He says those will give farmers the best bang for their buck.

“What I’m looking to do is provide a service for area farmers. We’re looking to expand and diversify some of their income,” said Farrell.

Farrell says people are looking at an input of about $12,000 an acre for hemp and about $65,000 an acre in returns.

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