OLIVIA, Minn. — Yes, as you might expect, lots of people, lots of talkers, great noon lunch and interest expectations running high at the Aug. 6 field day of Prairie Producers. And why not? These are the enterprising, enthusiastic and vigorous group launching the first hemp facility in Renville County.
Tim Seehusen, along with brother Paul Seehusen, are co-founders of this newest agricultural endeavor for area farmers. With the 2020 hemp harvest season about to begin, Tim shared a few thoughts on this ‘home opener’ for their new industry.
“We’re happy with the turnout — especially the cross section of farmers, both potential growers for the 2021 season and some current hemp growers,” said Seehusen. “We also have industry reps from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the hemp business world, some media folks, our local banker and some local business friends.
“We had a father/son team from Sleepy Eye growing hemp for grain this year. They are looking for an outlet for their fiber after harvesting the grain. In the past they’ve just plowed it under. But rest assured, we can provide an added revenue source here at our new hemp facility.”
All hemp fields of the first-year growers with Prairie Producers cut their hemp the first week of August with conventional sickle cutter bars. Hemp plants were ranging from 6 to 7 feet tall supported by 12 to 15-inch stalks. “So these fibers are lying in the fields right now drying,” explained Seehusen. “Next step is to turn it to assist with field drying. Then they bale the fiber crop when it at 12 to 14 percent moisture. We bale into square bales (2-foot squares and about 4 feet long) which will be hauled into our storage warehouse here at our office facility. This will hold upwards of 350 bales — plus we have access to other covered shed for additional bale storage.
“Our processing facility is being developed right now for our particular setup. John Lupien, co-founder of HempVentures (and a speaker today) is talking about the processing equipment being put together for us. Called the ‘decortication process,’ this is the removal of the outer layer of the hemp stalk — separating the outer blast fiber from the inner woody core called hurd.
“Next year we’ll be setting up a larger building at the west end of our property here along (U.S. Highway) 212. The intent is to minimize highway traffic of trucks hauling the baled product into our processing facility.”
Seehusen said Prarie Producers has test plots with five hemp varieties with three seeding dates and three seeding rates. The early May plantings have already been cut and he is seeing interesting results.
“The two Canadian seed varieties which we made available to our first-year growers were Joey and Canda, which we purchased through Cereseed (a certified hemp seed supplier and distributor located in the Twin Cities). These are dual grade varieties, both for hemp fiber and hurd. They did very well — even exceeding the height we expected. And since producers are paid on a dollar-per-ton pricing schedule, the bigger the total harvest per acre the bigger the payment. North Dakota State University data show these two varieties 54 to 63 inches tall. Here this year we are pushing 84 inches tall!
“We planted May 4; again on May 18/22; also the first week of June. Early May plantings got off to a slow start … cold and dreary weather. The mid-May planting came up quickly, reaching growth of the early-May planting. Now here in early August all three are about equal in plant height. With early planting, weeds quickly became a factor which may have challenged some germination. Our June plantings are shorter … perhaps because after June 21, day length starts decreasing. And apparently, these later-planted hemps start thinking of putting on seed and getting ready for harvest. Soil temps of 55 degrees or warmer are preferred before planting. Hemps seeds germinate in 3 to 5 days, so with warmer conditions they’re soon off to the races.”
Researchers and marketers never talk a ‘perfect season;’ but Seehusen did venture, “Yes a good year. But a few rains were excessive. However, we’re well-tiled so we didn’t have standing water. So it’s been a good first year for us rookies.”
“I can’t share names yet at this stage, but processors are already calling us asking about our products. And that’s key to a successful first year effort.”
“I commend the Seehusens for their ambition in developing a hemp industry right here in this innovative agricultural area of Minnesota,” said Harold Stanislawski. (He is the project development director at the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI). “This crop, centuries old around the world, is rapidly gaining new attention as scientists, researchers, and creative thinker keep tinkering with new ideas, new thoughts and new uses for one of the oldest plants on the earth’s surface.”
Now let’s hear from Paul Kubista, President of Cereseed. (Even his business card is printed on eco-friendly hemp stock.) He explains, “We wanted a seed firm specific in hemp seed verities. My intent is to (connect) with hemp seed suppliers and producers already in this industry. So far he’s talked with European, Canadian and U.S. hemp developers to get the best possible seed for this newly emerging new crop in America.”
At this stage, Cereseed is using only Canadian hemp seed sources; but already has an Indiana source viable for 2021 seed. Kubista also noted organic options are coming to fruition. “There is a huge push from companies like Patagonia (which markets a variety of hemp clothing for men and women) now also wanting organic hemp. Currently sourcing from other countries, they see U.S. farm production as a valuable new hemp source.”
Kubista, 29 years in Pioneer Seeds marketing, is excited about his new future because he’s big on hemp’s future in American agriculture. “The keys for the explosion of this new crop industry are deregulations that open up the animal feed market and human consumption. Every day you are reading about new consumer products with hemp ingredients.”
He points out much hemp seed currently is internet marketed with prices at $10 to $12 a pound. “In the CBD world it’s sold by the seed … typically 50 cents to $1 a seed. In my world, we’re looking at wholesale costs to the farmer in the $5 to $7 per pound range. With new U.S. production, that cost should come down.”
There are about 24,000 to 27,000 hemp seeds in a pound. Seeding rates are 25 to 45 pounds per acre said Kubista, so figure seed costs of $125 to $135 per acre at this stage. His ambitions are seed at $3 to $3.50 per pound as U.S. seed production ramps up.
His take on hemp’s future? “The demand is on the fiber side,” Kubista said. “I have a couple growers in northern Minnesota already into production contracts with clothing firms North Face and Patagonia. My goal is to provide seed to the Seehusens and help with connections to end users of their processed hemp products.”
Kubista said he has shirts, sweatshirts, even shorts made from hemp fabrics. His wife recently purchased shoes made of 100 percent hemp. “My hemp shirts are comfortable and durability is a plus.”
“I have supplied at least 14 universities with hemp seed for their expanding research trials. University trials, I think, will be an important information source. Yes, I’ll have some shareable data with you shortly,” summed up Kubista.
Another observer at Prairie Producers first field day was Erik Petersen, President of F&M Bank.
“Some banks and farmers are a bit nervous and understandably so,” stated Petersen. “At our bank we take a long-term view. We’re keenly aware of marketing cycles. Today you are hearing about Minnesota being in the top five in farm bankruptcy numbers. This huge crop coming on will temper this crunch somewhat — plus timely marketing helps too.”
“People know the Seehusens. They’re long-time fixtures in our community — starting with their dad who launched his own agri-business venture very likely before his sons were born. Paul was a teacher here at Olivia when I was in high school. They’re a great family. I respect the ambition, the optimism and their hard work.
“Anytime you put creative minds at work in creating new markets for our farm production it just opens new avenues — not just for our area farmers, but for communities in general. So how will I relate to farmers intending to grow this new crop next year? Lots of numbers being generated already this first year with the Seehusens and their first-year growers. Plus we know our State Department of Agriculture and Harold Stanislawski with Ag Utilization Research Institute are gathering incredible amounts of information also. I’ve got lots of confidence in Tim, Paul and the outstanding farmers in Renville County. Sure, a few mistakes now and then, but for the most part these folks think diligently with positive ambitions.”
Petersen is optimistic some black ink will be working for most of his farmers this year. “It’s been a turbulent year for livestock producers with processing plants shutting down. But most are pretty well positioned to do just fine.”
And he’s positive on this new industry called hemp farming now ramping up in Renville County.