PJ Sneed hopped out of his truck and looked up at electric line poles jutting off the main road down the edge of his 80-acre property.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “This is just exciting. I haven’t been out here since they got the electricity to us.”

The 80 acres of grassland and brush in western Reno County is the future location of Always Sunny Hemp and Bee Farm. Gov. Jeff Colyer signed the Alternative Research Act on April 20, allowing the Kansas Department of Agriculture to oversee the growing of industrial hemp through a research program. Sneed and his wife plan to take part in the program and move into a new industry.

“It presents a great opportunity for conventional farmers, rotational farmers and honestly opening its own industry in Kansas,” Sneed said. “And it’s really only been an industry for five years in the U.S.”

Sneed recently retired after 21 years as a burn trauma nurse at Via Christi Hospital in Wichita. During his time in the medical field, he became interested in the medicinal uses of hemp, such as cannabidiol, or CBD oil, which led him to learn more about the industrial uses for hemp.

“It can be used to make strong fibers, nutritional food products, bricks and so much more,” Sneed said. “They’ve even made a two-engine luxury jet out of a hemp-based composite.”

Sneed and his wife plan to build a home using hemp — specifically HempCrete, a building material derived from the plant. The two are selling their home in Nickerson and building a small, conventionally-built home at the location that will become Always Sunny Hemp and Bee farm. Sneed plans to grow enough industrial hemp to create the HempCrete before building a new home.

Regulation

However, the growing can’t begin yet. KDA is currently ironing out the rules and regulations for the hemp research program in Kansas. The task of developing rules has been handed to the KDA Plant Protection and Weed Control division. The group had an open meeting in Manhattan May 11 outlining the process, and in July, released a draft of the regulations.

The regulations are not currently set in stone. They are still subject to review by the Kansas Attorney General’s Office and Joint Committee on Administrative Rules and Regulations, as well as a public hearing. The current draft includes a $1,000 license fee for approved growers and criminal history checks being required during the application. All hemp grown if approved must test under 0.3 percent THC. A field that tests over 0.3 percent twice will be destroyed.

The regulations are set to go into effect Dec. 31.

While it is still some time away, and he has much work to do, Sneed is excited about the possibility of hemp taking off.

“The U.S. is the largest importer of hemp in the world,” he said. “And yet we can’t grow it. Hemp was a $500 million industry in the U.S. last year, and it 10 years it’s expected to grow to $1.5 billion.”

Hemp in history

With such potential for growth, Sneed believes misinformation is what has kept industrial hemp illegal for so long.

Hemp was first nationally regulated under the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which made the possession or transfer of marijuana illegal, excluding medicinal and industrial uses. The act also placed a special tax on those producing hemp. In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act made the use of cannabis — hemp included — for any reason a federal crime, and scheduled the entire plant species as a schedule 1 controlled substance, alongside drugs like heroin.

“Eighty years of propaganda has delayed research and cultivation,” Sneed said. “Everyone thinks it is marijuana, but they are two different plants. Honestly, if someone smoked hemp, they may as well smoke some grass out of the ditch. All they’ll get is the same headache.”

Kansas is borrowing ideas from programs in Colorado and Kentucky, which have been successful with industrial hemp. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ken., sponsored an amendment to the 2018 Farm Bill draft that would legalize industrial hemp nationally.

Getting started

And it is well suited to the Kansas climate. Sneed had already made plans to apply and start a hemp farm when he bought the property in western Reno County. While checking the property out one day, he was surprised to find “volunteer,” or naturally growing, hemp along a fence line.

“There are at least three varieties growing out here, in partial shade with all this competition,” Sneed said. “And they are just fine. It’s a tough plant, and in a time with lower commodity prices and drought, it could be really profitable.”

In growing a controversial crop, Sneed wants to challenge other aspects of agriculture as well. He plans to have a completely no-till farm, utilize cover crops and not use pesticides or herbicides.

“We will never have a bare field,” he said. “We’re going be no-till, keeping biology in the soil, we’ll use cover crops to lock down the soil, suppress weeds and attracted beneficial insects.”

The farm will raise wheat and sorghum using the same methods, but Sneed said hemp is especially suited to it, being drought and pest resistant.

Sneed plans to apply in January of next year and plant the second or third week of May.

“We’re the only farmers in the U.S. that will be fingerprinted and background checked for growing a legal crop,” he said. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”

If the application is approved, Always Sunny Hemp and Bee Farm will start small, with around 10 acres of hemp, and grow as it can.

Until then, the process will go on little by little, showing itself in the form of electricity lines, a culvert for the new driveway, a home, and eventually rows of hemp.