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More Than Just a Weed: The Push for Industrial Hemp in Iowa

A hemp field in Europe

Don't call it weed. It's industrial hemp, and it may be making a comeback in Iowa.

The 2014 Farm Bill provided provisions for states to legalize the growth of industrial hemp for research purposes. During the 2018 legislative session, the issue was up for debate at the Iowa Statehouse, and a bill to create a pilot program passed in the Iowa Senate. 

During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Nashua farmer Ethan Voorhees about the push to legalize industrial hemp in Iowa and across the U.S. He wants to use the plant to improve the soil health of his conventional cattle farm and believes he could improve the nutrition of the feed he uses to produce wagyu beef. 

Brain Kuhn, director for Wisconsin's Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Plant Industry Bureau, and Brent Young, regional extention specialist for Colorado State University, also join the discussion. 

Kuhn says industrial hemp is a cousin to the marijuana plant with less than .2% tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the psychoactive component in the cannabis plant. 

"During World War II, a lot of hemp went into uniforms for parachutes and rope," he says. "There was a significant pull and demand, but as that tailed off and the needs coming out of WWII tailed off, hemp production declined. It's prohibition was a storm of both market economics and technologies." 

Lindsey Moon served as IPR's Senior Digital Producer - Music and the Executive Producer of IPR Studio One's All Access program. Moon started as a talk show producer with Iowa Public Radio in May of 2014. She came to IPR by way of Illinois Public Media, an NPR/PBS dual licensee in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, and Wisconsin Public Radio, where she worked as a producer and a general assignment reporter.
Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River