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As Illinois' Second Legal Hemp Growing Season Nears, Experts Offer Encouragement And Advice

Leslie L.
Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The second season of legal hemp growing is coming in Illinois. State experts are sharing what they know — and don’t — as more people express interest in growing it.

University of Illinois Extension Educator Phillip Alberti leads workshops on hemp. He said its fiber can be used in everything from clothing to auto parts, and its seeds can be used as food. Most lucrative are its oils that are touted for a list of therapeutic benefits. He said there remains a lot of uncertainty, and balance is likely a key to success.

“This could be something," he said, "where you’re doing a small level of production. You know, a high level of profitability. But finding that sweet spot between this typical specialty crop and then, say, row crop production.”

But, he said, it’s a new and evolving industry and those interested in growing hemp need to do their homework.

“They can successfully hop into this industry if they start small and talk to people upfront," he said, "whether that’s their seed distributors, [or] the processors. Knowing where you’re going to go on each step of the way is going to be paramount.”

Hemp farmers must not only contend with weeds, worms and weather. They also must make sure the plants’ level of THC — the intoxicant in cannabis — remains below a certain threshold. If not, legally it must be destroyed. And that threshold drops after this year, when Illinois’ standard is replaced by the much more stringent federal benchmark.

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Guy Stephens is the local host for NPR's All Things Considered on WNIJ. He also produces news stories for the station, and coordinates our online events calendar, PSAs and Arts Calendar announcements. In each of these ways, Guy helps keep our listening community informed about what's going on, whether on a national or local level. Guy's degrees are in music, and he spent a number of years as a classical host on WNIU. In fact, after nearly 20 years with Northern Public Radio, the best description of his job may be "other duties as required."