Chillinois Talks to Illinois Hemp Growers Association

Over at the Chillinois Podcast, we recently sat down with the Illinois Hemp Growers Association’s founders, Rachel and Chris Berry. It’s easy to get a feel for how passionate these two are about the hemp industry and sustainability as a whole. We discussed everything from plant breeding to building materials that could be replaced by hemp, and talked about the differences between full spectrum and broad spectrum CBD products. Click the link here to give the podcast a listen, or keep reading for some abbreviated thoughts from the interview.

From humble beginnings to the leaders of the Illinois Hemp Growers Association, Rachel and Chris have made their journey into the Illinois cannabis market a labor of love. Chris, a Millwright, and Rachel, a former CNA, changed their lives when they moved onto a farm with the intention of growing vegetables and fruits. 

“I made a choice when I moved onto the farm. I wanted to go with practical knowledge. I hit up the library, talked to local farmers, and volunteered time to trade for experience and knowledge. That’s been the route that I’ve gone in terms of learning about plants, and about soil health, and how to grow.” says Rachel when asked about formal training or education in the realm of farming hemp.

So what made them go from industries so far removed from the world of cannabis to being the CEO and COO of the Illinois Hemp Growers Association, which currently boasts 600+ members, 90+ dues-paying members, and 9 corporate sponsors? According to Rachel, “After years of advocacy, we could see there was a need for support, and a need for education and collaboration with other organizations.”

Chris and Rachel were recently featured in an article (found here) where they discussed being able to bring hemp into the medical and recreational cannabis market. While this is a big win for the hemp industry, IHGA believes that the introduction of the 2018 Farm Bill should include a push to use only Illinois grown hemp in the Illinois market. Doing so would create a stronger cannabis market in Illinois as a whole. This is a huge hurdle, as Chris explained to us, because of record low pricing on bulk CBD oils which have been stockpiled by brokers and processors for years. 

“In August of 2019, the price of CBD started to crash, and it would have been really helpful if we would have been able to get into dispensaries then. As it is now, only cultivation centers can buy the industrial hemp. They can buy it from anyone in the country, not just growers in Illinois. So, as nice as it sounds, basically what this does is allow the cultivation centers to take advantage of very very low prices,” Chris tells us. This policy should create a mutually beneficial relationship between licensed hemp growers and cultivators who are looking to purchase bulk CBD for their products being sold in dispensaries, but in reality it’s more of a one-way street. “[Cultivators] will be saving money by not dedicating canopy space to CBD strains, and they’ll also be taking advantage of incredibly low prices for CBD isolate, distillate, and even CBD biomass if they choose to go that route.”

The 2018 farm bill was put into effect immediately, but the industry will take some time to catch up to the changes. “There’s a lot to be critical about, if you want to be, regarding the policy since it’s operating under the current Illinois Industrial Hemp Program [authorized by the 2014 farm bill]. This policy could have been implemented much sooner,” Chris noted. Most CBD oil is sold through brokers, rather than being sold directly from the farm to the cultivator. 

Chris spoke more on this topic: “Farmers get their product processed into oil, then it’ll go into brokerage or some other distribution channels. So, whoever is buying the oil or stockpiling the oil – in some cases it may be the processor, because the processors used to do split agreements with farmers. [Processors] would take 50/50, then stockpile 50% of the oil for a later sale.” This stockpiling process ended around August/September of 2019 due to low profit margins.

An alternative to cannabinoid production would be to get more Illinois farmers on board with the idea of using hemp as a rotational crop. Hemp has a very short growing cycle (about 12 weeks), and can improve soil quality in a beneficial way for crops such as soybeans. Hemp can also help reduce the amount of pests that reside in the surrounding soil, meaning less pesticides for farmers. As a material, hemp can be used for a variety of things from textiles to building materials, topical products, oils, and more, making it an extremely sustainable (and profitable) crop over time.

“Hemp fits perfectly between current corn and soybean rotations,” states Chris. “So, you can plant corn, then hemp, then soy, then repeat.”

Not only is this good for the farmers, but it doesn’t require a lot of extra preparation of the field in order to have a successful growing season. “Fields previously cropped to soybeans, alfalfa, and clover are excellent for rotating into hemp. In traditional schemes of crop rotation, hemp can take the place of oats or beans. Furthermore, the introduction of hemp as a new crop into the cycle of crop rotations can help reduce the incidence of disease and soil pathogens.” The benefits don’t end there, though. “Hemp improves soil structure, suppresses weeds, and is nearly free of diseases and pests. [Hemp] can reduce the cyst nematode affecting soybeans. [Hemp] grows well after fruits, vegetables, grasses, and grains, while fruits, vegetables, grasses, and grains grow well after hemp.”

Speaking of building materials, as a member of the United States Hemp Building Association, Rachel mentioned that they are currently pushing for hemp-based building materials to be included and accepted in various building codes. Hempcrete, a hemp-based concrete substitute, has been shown to be potentially longer-lasting than traditional concrete and is pest, fire, and mold resistant. Traditional wood building materials can also be replaced with hemp, reducing the amount of trees that need to be destroyed to make a standard Timber or Oak frame. 

“The inner woody core can be used for building and construction materials. It can be pressed into boards, all kinds of stuff you can do for just construction with just the hemp plant,” says Rachel.

With hemp being such an up and coming industry, we asked Chris and Rachel for some advice to those who are new to the field of hemp cultivation. Their top tips come from starting with good seeds. As those of us in the Illinois medical cannabis market know, seeds can be hard to come by, but Chris tells us that’s not the case in the hemp world. “Getting reliable seed was much more difficult in 2019 than it is in 2020.”

So what should you look for when purchasing reliable seed? According to Chris, it starts with a reliable vendor. “Any reputable vendor will be able to supply a recent certificate of analysis that shows the seed you’re buying came from a plant that was compliant for THC levels at harvest.” Another word of advice: “Don’t buy [seeds] from someone you haven’t met in person or won’t have the opportunity to meet in person, and do your best to buy from someone in Illinois.”

Outside of purchasing seeds, it’s important to seek out reputable vendors for all of your CBD products, from textiles to topicals, edibles, smokeables, and everything in between. So who do the experts at IHGA recommend? Tulip Tree Gardens, Hempstock Pharms, Do Good Acres, and Cannahealth RX by Illinois Valley Hemp are the IHGA’s top 4 Illinois farms to purchase from. Their products are available for individual purchase through their websites, which will be linked below.

You may have been told to avoid CBD oils that are commercially available at your local gas station or, our personal favorite, Family Video store. These products are typically made with CBD isolate, which is less beneficial than using a CBD distillate, and are not going to be locally cultivated. When making a purchase of CBD, here are a few things to look for and take into consideration: same as seeds, a reliable vendor will offer a COA or Certificate of Analysis for their products. You may also be confused by terms such as full-spectrum vs broad-spectrum, and distillate vs isolate. Full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD oils made from distillate are going to be the closest to whole plant medicine, as they will contain the terpenes and flavonoids that give the CBD products their helpful effects. CBD oils made from isolate have had the terpenes and flavonoids removed without reintroducing them at the end of the extraction process.

If you’re looking to get the most healing potential out of your CBD oil, look for the full-spectrum CBD. If you’re wanting the benefits but want to totally avoid THC, go with broad-spectrum. While broad-spectrum will not be 100% as effective as full-spectrum, the difference in relief should be minimal. 

For more information and to reach out to the IHGA, visit their website: www.illinoishga.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/IllinoisHGA  

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ILHempGrowers/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/illinoishga/ or

Rachel’s personal Instagram page: hemp_mama_rae

Also available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuZgxEQlL2QdYuSD6nsx26w

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/illinois-hemp-growers-association/,  

Via email: rachel@illinoishga.com, chris@illinoishga.com or by telephone at (815) 348-2211

https://www.cannabisbusinesstimes.com/article/illinois-hemp-can-be-sold-into-legal-marijuana-market/

https://www.hempstockpharms.com/

https://www.instagram.com/dogoodacres/

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