SPECIAL REPORT: How East Texans are cashing-in on hemp

Special Reports

TYLER, Texas (KETK) – The Lone Star State is going green. Hundreds of farmers are now growing hemp hoping to take advantage of this booming, new industry.

“Here in Texas, we’ve been in the hemp business for almost a year, and we’re busy building the Texas ‘hempire’ — we’ve issued over 1,150 producer licenses, permitted over 5,000 acres of hemp in the ground and over 15 million square feet of hemp in greenhouses,” said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

Keith Harlan is an East Texan trying to earn money from hemp. His team at Rose City Growers is currently growing plants inside of greenhouses in the Swan community near Tyler.

“We have five that are available and within two months they will all be full of plants,” said Harlan. “After the last freeze, we will start populating hoop houses with plants. By April or May, we will have thousands of plants ready for planting in the ground.”

Before becoming a farmer, Harlan was a full-time chef in Tyler. He never imagined he would we be growing this crop so close to home.

“I never thought it would happen, but it has.”

Keith Harlan, Rose City Growers

Rose City Growers is celebrating one year of being in business. In that time, they have experimented with different seeds, built a storefront, and designed an irrigation system. They are currently growing hundreds of plants from seeds purchased on the east coast.

“It takes about 14 to 21 days for the seed to sprout to what we call a seedling. From the seedling, we take them out of the trays and put them in three-gallon pots until the plant gets to an adolescent size.”

Once the hemp plants are fully developed, they are harvested and made into common household products like lotion, lip balm and soap.

CBD is extracted and can be used for:

  • Pain relief
  • Treating anxiety and depression
  • Alleviating cancer-related symptoms
  • Reducing seizures

These plants can also be used as ‘hempcrete,’ a substitute for sheetrock and insulation, when building homes. The Henry Family in Lindale built their house out of hemp.

“It regulates the moisture in the house,” said Dianna Henry. “Mold can’t grow in it. It controls the air in the house. It’s a healthier air.”

The history of hemp in the United States dates back to the 1700’s, when the first commander-in-chief advocated for the use of the plant.

“George Washington grew hemp,” said Commissioner Miller. “The fiber was used to make canvas. It was used in the tents for the continental army, sails on ships, and was made into ropes for the Navy. It’s still made today.”

Marijuana and hemp are the same plant, except the latter has a minimal amount of THC.

Marijuana and hemp are two different names for cannabis. According to the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp must contain less than 0.3 percent THC content. THC is the chemical that produces a ‘high.’

“All you potheads out there…this isn’t going to do a thing for you,” said Miller “It has no THC in it. You can’t get high off of it. You could smoke a whole pick-up truck, and it won’t do anything but make you sick.”

The USDA recently released the final rules for hemp production. According to federal law, farmers must destroy plants that exceed the acceptable THC level, but they are no longer required to do so under the supervision of law enforcement.

This can be detrimental to producers if their plants test over the allowed THC limit.

“You spend 30 to 45 dollars growing a plant, and you lose it,” said Harlan, with Rose City Growers. “If it’s over point three percent it’s no longer considered hemp… it’s considered marijuana, and you have to destroy it. Take a 1,500 square foot greenhouse…we could put 100 plants in there. That’s $4,500 you would lose if your crop has to be destroyed.”

Despite these strict federal rules, Commissioner Miller is confident the Lone Star State will lead the way.

“Texas is the ideal place to grow this crop,” said Miller. “I think we will be the leader of growing hemp for the entire nation in the next four to five years. We are going to create a ‘hempire’ here in Texas.”

East Texans pack a room for a hemp master class held in Tyler on January 30th.

There is a lot of interest in East Texas. Recently, a group of East Texas farmers filled an entire room for a hemp master class in Tyler.

“Our class today is farmer-focused,” Zachary Maxwell with Texas Hemp Growers said. “We have farmers from all over East Texas and beyond to learn how they can improve on their yields and improve their crops over last year’s growing season.”

The lessons are hosted by Texas Hemp Growers, a collection of entrepreneurs looking to make big money.

“Some of this hemp flower that is being grown by some of these growers in this room right now is going for 300 to 400 dollars a pound. That’s significant for farmers right now who are struggling.”

Zachary Maxwell, Texas Hemp Growers

Harlan and his team at Rose City Growers are looking for more people to join their cause. They want to build a hemp co-op made up of East Texans.

“Everybody’s experience one year, benefits the other people’s experience the next year,” Harlan said. “We are going to build on it and get a group of people here in Smith County and East Texas that are producing a high-quality CBD flower.”

Keith Harlan of Tyler was a full-time chef before becoming a hemp farmer.

2021 will be the second year of legal hemp production in the state, and business owners believe the only way to go is up.

Commissioner Miller is now recruiting hemp processors and manufacturers who can turn these hemp flowers into common, everyday products. There are also plans to build the first fiber plant in Texas to make canvas, ropes and hempcrete.


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