GOSHEN COUNTY – “You’re looking at the first licensed industrial hemp field in the state of Wyoming,” said Kelly Sittner, president of Goshen County Economic Development and vice president of the Wyoming Hemp Association, at a field exposition Sept. 1 south of Torrington.
Ervin Gara never planned on being a hemp farmer, but a conversation with Sittner changed his mind. Gara, a lifer in the farming industry, volunteered land, machinery and manpower to conduct the grow operation. Gara was granted a license to grow hemp in Goshen County in 2020 by the state of Wyoming and will be working with several organizations to determine the viability of the crop.
Gara told The Telegram he started farming in Goshen County about 30 years ago. Gara believes hemp is “going to be a good rotation crop after hay.”
He said he planted his first crop on June 5, and the plant was “up in 5 days.” As of the Sept. 1 exposition, the hemp plants were anywhere from five to 15-feet tall.
“It’s been really hands-off; I haven’t had to do much with it,” Gara said about the simplicity of farming the hemp. Gara was optimistic about the crop and hopes to convince others it’s a viable option for Goshen County.
Brayden Connour of Goshen County Economic Development said they had filed for grants through the Natural Resources Conservation Services, an agency under the United States Department of Agriculture. Should the grants be denied, the group is seeking other financial sources to fund the project. The group is considering source funding from different places, including WyoFi, a “state-chartered special purpose financial services provider.”
Connour said the project is being conducted so they can learn “what grows and under what conditions.”
Connour believes southeast Wyoming will be the primary area in the state for hemp operations and hopes it will bolster the area and the state’s economy.
Justin Loeffler of Greentree Ag has been the primary organizer for the plot.
“We have three varieties on seven plots,” Loeffler said.
Referring to the amount of seed planted to the acre, he said “there are three, 50-pound plots, three, 35-pound plots and one, 16-pound plot. We have a weather station that monitors the conditions the crops are growing in, and allows us to collect data about the crop’s progress.” Loeffler said the crop has been resilient to the weather thus far, but they are anxious to see how it holds up in the future.
“Harvesting should begin within the next week or so,” he said. “From there, we will take the crops to be processed.”
Jerod Dean, also of Greentree Ag, said the plot was scheduled to be tested by the state of Wyoming on Sept. 2. After the test, “we have 15 days to harvest the hemp. If the test comes back hot, over the 0.03% threshold, then we will have to terminate the crop.”
The concentration of the psychoactive ingredient in hemp, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, must be below three-tenths of one percent for the crop to be legal in Wyoming.
J.T. Mitchell operates Nature’s Composites in Torrington. Mitchell brought boards created with 60% hemp and 40% polymer to show the attendees. Mitchell said the board was about the same density as other boards he has made with straw.
“We would take and blend a polymer and the fiber, plus whatever magic sauce they want to put into this, and make a small pellet.”
The pellets are then used to create boards, fences and other items.
Mitchell intends to continue working with hemp to determine how cost-effective the process will be. He also cited several benefits of hemp’s use in the process.
“We take our scrap material and we grind it back up,” Mitchell said. “As fast as I can get a truckload made, a guy in Chicago takes it.”
The man in Chicago then uses the recycled material to create door shims.
“As these age, 10 years out, you’ll start seeing porosities in it, and you’ll start seeing the plastic drying out.” Mitchell said the hemp will decay in the long run as it is organic. “The plastic will always be there because it is not organic, but it can be recycled.”