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Idaho Industrial Hemp Production More Than Doubled Between 2022, 2023


The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation recently released information regarding an increase in hemp cultivation for last year. During 2023, farmers planted 1,273 acres of hemp, which is a massive increase from the 459 acres cultivated in 2022.

Idaho was the 50th state in the U.S. to legalize the production and cultivation of hemp after Gov. Brad Little signed House Bill 126. According to a news report from the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, 2,440 acres of hemp has been approved via cultivation licenses as of May 31. A majority of Idaho hemp is cultivated in south central Idaho.

In 2022, some hemp farmers targeted cultivation for CBD, and very few did so in 2023. 

In 2022, approximately 44 acres of hemp were destroyed because the crops exceeded the minimum levels of THC, even though they were CBD varieties. In 2023, there was no recorded hemp crop destruction.

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) ag. program manager Greg Blahato explained that plants grown for hemp fiber seem to respond well to the climate. “The fiber varieties have taken off, and that’s what seems to grow very well here,” Blahato said.

ISDA hemp bureau chief Casey Monn suggested that growing hemp wasn’t a problem, but harvesting was challenging for some cultivators. “From the regulatory side, we didn’t see any issues with the crop last year,” Monn said. “Some folks were able to grow and harvest it very, very well and there were some folks that seemed to struggle with growing and harvesting it.” Some of the challenges included improper drying techniques, which led to the plant being “too green or wet,” according to the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.

Current state law states that people can only grow cannabis if they receive a license from the ISDA. Monn referred to Idaho’s hemp law as one of the most strict in the country, where hemp is not regulated by the grower, but by the “lot.” A hemp production lot refers to a grouping of hemp plants. If a grower harvests their hemp lot all at once, only one inspection is necessary. However, if the grower harvests in more than one batch separately from one another, multiple inspections are necessary.

Department of Agriculture deputy director Chanel Tewalt explained the process to the Idaho Capital Sun in January 2022. “We’ll pull samples from every single lot that is grown, and our sample size is determined on how big the lot is, the acreage,” said Tewalt. “The hemp can’t go anywhere. It cannot leave their farm until they receive an acceptable lab result.”

In comparison to the recent hemp plant data, Idaho’s agriculture still leads the way in wheat (an estimated one million acres per year), hay (more than one million acres), barley (500,000 acres), corn (350,000 acres), and potatoes (300,000 acres) per year.

Idaho hemp cultivator Brad Darrington tried his hand at growing hemp in 2023, but won’t continue to do so. “Why would I continue growing it if” it’s not going to pencil out for me,” Darrington told Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.

Other farmers such Brigham Cook, who grew 100 acres of hemp in 2023, plans to continue growing hemp with another 100 acres this year as well. “I think there’s a future for hemp and hopefully there is a future for hemp in Idaho,” said Cook. “There are a lot of potential uses for hemp that I believe will be a win for farmers who grow it.”

However, Cook noted that he and other growers are still fine-tuning their growing methods when learning how to grow hemp effectively. “The harvest has been a huge issue,” said Cook. “It’s a new enough crop here that we just haven’t figured out all the quirks.”

Cook added that hemp has been useful for weed control as well. “It’s a crop that fits … in this part of Idaho and should be a good crop rotation for us,” he said.

Another farmer, Triston Sponseller, is said to have grown the largest amount of hemp in 2023 and is also the owner of a hemp processing facility. “Harvesting has been a challenge,” said Sponseller. “It’s definitely been a tough crop compared to what we’re used to. It’s been a learning experience and there has been some trial and error.”

Sponseller began growing hemp in 2022 because the idea of cultivating a new crop sounded interesting. “I was just really curious as to what else we might be able to work into our standard rotation, the geography and the climate, and the soil types,” he explained. “We found what works on our farms, and we were just excited to see if hemp would work too, and surprise, it works really well!”

Currently, Sponseller rotates his crops between wheat, barley, and potatoes. According to an interview with Sponseller conducted by Ag Proud Idaho, he primarily focuses on separating hemp stalk and fiber from the hurd and then cleaning them. Then they’re baled and shipped to various parts of the country for use in various industries such as bedding and automotive, as well as being used as a replacement for plastic.

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation director of governmental affairs, Brad Jensen, also commented that the state of hemp in Idaho has a promising future. Idaho’s agriculture industry is extremely knowledgeable and innovative,” said Jensen. “Our growers will figure out whether it’s an economically viable crop in our state.”

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