First hemp crop is in the ground; harvest due in October
PRINCETON —áIt’s been a year since former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the Industrial Hemp Act, which legalized the growth of hemp in the state.
This past spring, farmers from all over sought out licenses to grow the new crop. Among those was Eddie Diaz, who owns land in rural Princeton.
Diaz said he was eager to try something new. So, he and a business partner, who wishes to remain anonymous, started Illinois Valley Hemp LLC.
Together, they invested between $70,000 and $80,000 and purchased 2,300 hemp plants that were planted on roughly two acres.Their hope is the hemp can be used for premium smoking flower.
“This plant was used back in the day for so many things, and I feel we’ve done a bad job at the ecosystem nowadays,” Diaz said. “This is a big step towards changing that. The stuff that can be made with hemp — there’s so many things you can do with it.”
Diaz’s land just happens to be next door to Rachel Berry, who advocated heavily for the Industrial Hemp Act. She is also the founder and CEO of Illinois Hemp Growers Association.
When she learned of her neighbor’s endeavor, the two quickly became acquainted, and Berry ended up offering a portion of her land for Diaz’s crop.
Diaz admits, planting the first crop was more labor intensive than he expected.
“You’re not on a tractor. You’re down there, digging a hole and setting the plant in there by hand,” he said. “It’s very labor intensive.”
But luckily, he has a lot of friends and family that have lent their help along the way, especially with weeding.
Diaz was able to get his first crop in the ground the first week of July, which was a little later than he wanted, but the wet spring this year held up plans for planting.
Diaz admits he did lose a few plants here and there, while he watched other plants thrive. He said it’s been a learning curve figuring out the secrets of success.
“As a hemp farmer, you have to learn to go with the flow and not take your mistakes personally,” Berry said. “It’s a learning experience for everybody in the state right now.”
One great thing Diaz and his partner have discovered along the way is the huge online support from farmers around the state. They use Facebook to communicate with one another and take pictures when there are issues with the plants as they seek advice from others.
“The hemp community is very willing to help you. You can put a comment out there and people will always come back and say ‘try this’ or ‘try that,’” he said.
The biggest issue many have dealt with this year is over-watering the plants.
Berry said for the most part, it seems like farmers are experiencing the same issues at the same time, which is good.
Diaz is looking forward to October, which is when he plans to harvest his first crop. After that, it will already be time to plan for next year.
“Everyone who risked it this year, the gains for next year are going to be so much more,” he said.