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SD Farmers: Hemp will Diversify State's Cash Crops

South Dakota hopes to diversify its cash crops with successful production of hemp, as shown here in Polk County, Minn. (Minnesota Department of Agriculture)
South Dakota hopes to diversify its cash crops with successful production of hemp, as shown here in Polk County, Minn. (Minnesota Department of Agriculture)
February 22, 2019

PIERRE, S.D. - South Dakota lawmakers want to get hemp into production as soon as possible, passing a bill last week by a vote of 65-2 to grow, produce and process the plant.

Overwhelming support by the House of Representatives for the hemp bill conflicts with the wishes of Gov. Kristi Noem, who has contended that the state isn't ready and lacks the dollars to set up a licensing program and hire inspectors. However, Doug Sombke, president of the South Dakota Farmers Union, said farmers are desperate to diversify their cash crops.

"We really need another tool in the toolbox for farmers to use, and we're not telling you you've got to use it - it's just another opportunity," he said. "That's all we're looking for. We're trying to find a way - as many ways as possible, actually - for farmers to be successful."

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp. The ancient plant is known to have more than 25,000 possible uses, from dietary supplements and skin-care products to clothing.

Noem's concerns led to postponement of a vote in the Senate this week. She urged lawmakers to wait on the hemp bill until federal guidelines are issued, and then decide if the commodity is as promising as many hope.

Sombke said Montana had 22,000 acres of hemp in cultivation last year, and added that he doesn't want South Dakota to get left behind.

"That's what I fear, that we're going to be 50th again," he said. "I know there are some that are saying, 'Well, you know, let somebody else do it and then we'll jump in later.' Well, that's not how it always works, right? I mean, I think we've got producers that are just as good as any other state, and are just as smart."

Sombke added that Native Americans on South Dakota reservations also would benefit economically from hemp, because even though sovereignty has allowed them to grow the plant, federal law prohibited them from transporting it.

"Well, now there's a federal law that allows it so, boy, they're just jacked, they're ready for this," he said. "And I think that's wonderful, that they're looking at those things as opportunities to help them be whole."

Forty-three states already have begun introducing hemp into their agricultural mix, with Minnesota gearing up for significant expansion this year.

Details of the bill are online at sdlegislature.gov.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD