Avard Rail discusses state's industrial hemp pilot program
May 19, 2019
The Avard Rail Park Authority received a lesson on hemp last Tuesday night at their meeting, one month after the subject was introduced under new business by board member Ed Sutter. A conversation between Northwestern Oklahoma State University’s vice president of academic affairs, Bo Hannaford, and Sutter piqued interest enough for authority members to hear from specialists in the field: Korbin Hand, project director with Hempyre Genetics, and Ryan McEwen, program director for contract farming with American Wholesale Hemp. Before hearing from the men, Hannaford told the group he had received a lot of questions about the industrial hemp pilot program.
Oklahoma Agricultural Industrial Hemp Pilot Program
Legislature passed the Oklahoma Agricultural Industrial Hemp Pilot Program (OAIHPP) in April of 2018, and the temporary rules to govern the program were adopted by the department in May of 2018. The farm bill removed industrial hemp from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, authorizing crop insurance for industrial hemp and allowing for hemp clones and seedlings to cross state lines. By law, industrial hemp must have less than 0.3% THC. THC is the chemical that produces the euphoric effect or “high” of other cannabis plants.
Under the laws and rules for the OAIHPP program, a farmer wishing to grow industrial hemp must establish a relationship with a university or college that belongs to the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education. The institution must also have a plant science curriculum. Once the farmer has a relationship with a university or college, they can apply to the department to receive a license for each cultivation site. In 2018, ODAFF licensed 28 growers contracted with colleges in Oklahoma’s higher levels of education, according to the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.
NWOSU and Hemp
NWOSU is one of five universities that has been approved for the pilot program, Hannford said, and knowing the crop has become synonymous with marijuana, he wanted to go on the record: “We're not growing marijuana (...) it's industrial hemp (...) Northwestern, on any of our ag land, we’re not growing anything. We are a sponsoring university. There’s things in the future we’ll look at, absolutely, but we’re taking baby steps.”
“We went into a partnership with Hempyre Genetics (HG) for research. Some of the neat things we're doing with HG is looking at different variations of genetics for seeds that might work for different parts of the state for different types of soils.”
HG is actively working to acquire cannabis genetics left over from the industrial hemp farming that took place in Oklahoma during the 1930s and '40s. They began the project in April of 2018 with the identification of multiple locations across Oklahoma that contained remnants of industrial hemp planted decades ago.
Admitting there is still a lot to learn, Hannaford said the university has entered very slowly in this process. “I think for us, looking at maybe some different industry (...) some of the things we're learning hemp can be used for (...) I've learned more than I ever thought I would about hemp. I just thought this group might be interested in learning a little bit about it. It's something that I think is interesting. I think it's going to be a part, or hopefully maybe a part, of our economy in the future.”
Industrial Hemp vs Cannabidiol (CBD)
Hannaford mentioned CBD oil. “CBD oil is obviously something that is obviously very popular and growing, but another thing that's getting more and more popular is (...) actually the fiber. We've had more and more people – entrepreneurs – that are looking at using the fiber for so many things than what we used to know, whether it was paper or rope. Now they're using it for insulation, they're looking at it for sealing wood, concrete.”
In support of Hannaford's statement, Ryan McEwen, program director for contract farming with American Wholesale Hemp, said, “This isn't anything new. The first pair of Levi's was hemp. The Constitution was written on hemp. The sails we sailed over here with, they were hemp. This has been a versatile crop that we've just barely scratched the surface of here. ” He went on to list more uses for hemp. “Henry Ford made a vehicle completely comprised of hemp that ran on hemp. Its applications are vast.”
Hemp and Avard Rail
Though not on the Avard Rail Authority, Woods County commissioner Randy McMurphy was in attendance and asked the guys about the shipping process. In response, they said the 2018 bill opened up a lot of doors with interstate commerce – that now it is 50-state legal to transport.
“We're going to have to get it processed. I guess that's my question,” McMurphy said. Right now there are no processing plants for industrial hemp in the United States.
Hannaford spoke up. “I’ve taken close to probably 200 phone calls from across the whole state and from Colorado," he said. "One of the phone calls was actually looking for a processing plant for fiber.”
McEwen explained to the board, “California has one of the largest fabric portfolios but everything is outsourced. Patagonia is doing a line of clothing (...) but everything is sourced out of the United States.”
“Who's carrying it once it's processed?” Holder asked the two guests. Woods County Economic Development Executive Director Sonja Williams spoke up, telling the group of men that Burlington Northern Santa Fe will not transport hemp.
“They won't transport hemp, but they [the two representatives] are saying you would change it from hemp into a product and they would then transport it,” Poe said. “It's kind of like the chicken and the egg. Is somebody going to put the processing in or are they going to develop the product to use or are they going to grow it and develop it off of that?”
“I’m trying to find out if there is an application in rail, for the [CBD] oil,” said Holder.
McEwen replied, saying that the rail would come into play whenever the transport of bio-mass is approved. “If that’s the case, we’d be more looking at the fiber side for rail,” Holder went on.“Our business is moving freight from point A to point B. A processing plant sounds great, as long it can be transported.” To date there have been no processing plants put up in rail yards.
“From the fiber side of it, the rail is ideal,” Poe said. “But that’s where the hurdle comes right now – BNSF won’t transport in a fiber state. The logical thing is you basically refine the fiber side here so when you’re transporting it, it’s no longer hemp. It’s then a product, a textile (...) that’s where the transportation component could come in. I guess the question is what is the capital investment of a processing facility for that type of bio-mass?”
Hannford and the two guests wrapped up the discussion and board members moved on to the next item of the agenda.
In the finance report, Holder said the numbers look good. The rail park hosted a train earlier this week and a couple last month. “Debt is going down. We’re still accruing. Happy, happy, happy,” he said. Members approved the financial report and heard from Sonja Williams next.
Woods County Economic Development Committee Executive Director Sonja Williams rolled out a rough rendering of what some changes to the rail park might look like. She said last time, Sutter asked about additional infrastructure and what that would look like. Though the rendering was a little different than what they had envisioned, the design before them presented ideas for a more usable, Jonesboro-type of (transloading) facility.
A truer rendering will be necessary in order to apply for transportation grants, Williams said, telling the board that she needed some justifyable figures. The executive director has been working on putting together massive amounts of information needed for federal grants. “I need some direction on what I’m doing, what I’m going for.” Stepping out for a phone call, she came back with an estimate of $10,000 for a more accurate design. No action could be taken on the matter however, due to open meeting laws. The group agreed before expenditures could be made more research was needed, but in a quick manner. Grant deadlines are approaching and members discussed the possibility of a special meeting.
Holder suggesting looking into a consulting firm on the grant-writing process. “We run Sonja ragged chasing down every lead we can possibly get. I think we can get her some help.”
Williams, when asked, said she didn’t know of any consulting firms, but that she had began looking that day.
Video of the entire meeting can be seen at http://www.alvareviewcourier.com.