HARRISBURG, S.D. (KELO) — At a warehouse along I-29 near Harrisburg, SD, sits a machine that could help farmers make up to $40,000 per acre, but it’s not helping anyone in South Dakota.
“It’s a giant paperweight in this state, but it becomes very useful once you get outside of our borders,” said Reid Vander Veen, director of marketing at Hemp Processing Solutions.
The year-old company has already designed two machines to help what will next year be a $5.7 billion industry across the globe, according to New Frontier Data. The BudRubber, announced this week, and the BioMaster are two machines that help the hemp industry process the plant faster, more reliable and more efficiently.
The machine announced this week helps to separate the hemp plant into different parts. Each part can be used for a variety of things.
“We’ve got a bunch of people exploring the space and essentially what they’re trying to do is recycle excising harvesting equipment or processing equipment,” Vander Veen said.
BudRubber changes that and is built specifically for hemp. The company claims the machine can speed up the task of separating the buds and leaves from the fiber. What would normally take days or weeks of human labor, now is an automated task that’s 98 percent faster.
“We’re excited, we’re ready to not only participate but be a leader in an industry that’s really going to take off,” Vander Veen said.
The hemp industry
The hemp industry took a giant leap last year with the passage of the new farm bill. It took hemp off the U.S. Controlled Substances Act and made it an agriculture commodity. The regulation of hemp also became a state issue and across the country, legislation was quickly passed.
The politics of hemp in South Dakota
Lawmakers in Pierre passed a bill that would legalize the production of industrial hemp earlier this year, but it was vetoed by Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD).
“South Dakota’s not ready for industrial hemp today,” she said in February. “We’re not ready from an agricultural perspective.”
This has created a unique challenge for Hemp Processing Solutions. While the machines are designed and manufactured in South Dakota, tests and product demos for customers have to be done in Colorado.
“We typically have resources from our team out there on a bi-weekly basis,” Vander Veen said.
The team members often fly in the morning from Sioux Falls to Denver, then drive to Colorado Springs where the research and development facility is located.
“We can manufacture machines, we can weld steel together, and that’s not illegal (in South Dakota),” Vander Veen said.
While a logistical problem for the company, it’s South Dakota’s largest industry that’s really taking the hit, according to Vander Veen.
“It’s unfortunate, I think that the rest of the ag community doesn’t have access to (the hemp) space like we do,” Vander Veen said.
This year has been notably hard for South Dakota farmers. A wet spring and early summer, trade disputes and bad markets have delayed or even prevented planting. He said it would’ve been interesting to see how farming industrial hemp would’ve helped local producers.
“One of the many benefits about cannabis is that it has an incredibly short growing season,” Vander Veen said. “So industrial hemp can be harvested in as little as 90 days.”
Hemp is also a unique plant. It has more than 25,000 identified uses, creating a larget market for farmers.
This week lawmakers returned to Pierre for a summer study on industrial hemp lead by State Rep. Lee Qualm (R-Platte). Capitol News Bureau correspondent Bob Mercer reports officials from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture spoke with lawmakers about what that state has learned from legalizing industrial hemp.
“There’s opportunity out there in South Dakota for this,” Qualm said. He added that the Legislature needs “to get the roadblocks out of the way” so private industry could move ahead.
Noem’s position hasn’t changed
South Dakota’s governor still isn’t sold. Noem’s press secretary sent a statement to KELOLAND News.
“As a lifelong farmer and former small business owner, Governor Noem would love to expand markets through new, safe, proven commodities that will put more money in the pockets of small business owners and producers. Industrial hemp, however, failed to meet those qualifications when we looked at this issue last session. Serious questions remain about the impact on public safety, enforcement, and costs to the taxpayers. The Department of Agriculture in Washington hasn’t put out federal guidelines yet and the FDA hasn’t approved CBD oil, which remains illegal in our state in most cases. We still have a lot more tough questions than we have good answers when it comes to hemp.”
Kristin Wileman, Press Secretary
Still, Vander Veen is hopeful Noem will come around.
“The good thing about a lot of our legislators and representatives in South Dakota is that they have an ag background, including Governor Noem,” he said. “We’re sure that they’re going to take a look at it through that lens.”
Vander Veen said a silver lining is that South Dakota can learn from the mistakes of other states.
“We would love it if we could test some plants here, that is absolutely the truth, but we’ll get there and figure it out until then,” Vander Veen said.
Nebraska is now a state allowing the testing of hemp after Gov. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) signed the Nebraska Hemp Farming Act. This allows a limited number of farmers to grow, harvest and process hemp for research purposes. The state’s Department of Agriculture received 176 applications for this growing season.
A bright future
For Hemp Processing Solutions, their future is bright. In the week since the BudRubber was launched, calls have been coming into their office from potential buyers.
“When these larger operations show up, we want to have something ready for them,” Vander Veen said.
And they’re doing that by tapping into a field high in demand and doing what they call a “revolution in hemp processing at an industrial scale.”