Growing hemp as cash crop continues to expand in South Dakota

South Dakota Ag ConnectionMarch 10, 2023Agriculture News

PIERRE, S.D. – South Dakota will process its first hemp fiber in a matter of weeks, and more processors are gearing to fire up their machines soon.

A local market is expected to boost production for a new crop that’s already put South Dakota among the top producers.

Last year was the second season South Dakota farmers could grow industrial hemp, and the state ranked second in the nation in the number of acres harvested at 2,540 behind Montana. That’s according to the number submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. USDA will have its official numbers in its 2022 hemp report next month.

South Dakota’s spot near the top is attributed at least in part to the misfortune growers in other states experienced in prior years. Neighboring states jumped in to run pilot programs after the 2018 farm bill gave industrial hemp the go ahead. South Dakota legislators took their time working out state regulations before growers here could plant their first crop. It ended up being a blessing when the market for certain hemp products went bust.

Early on, growers in other states saw big dollar signs in hemp CBD products. So many jumped on that they flooded the market by 2019 and many were left without a place to take their crop.

Now most hemp is grown for either grain or fiber. Fiber is where South Dakota’s processors are focusing. The decorticator machines will take bales of hemp stalks and separate the outer stringy stalk of the plant from the inner woody core called the hurd.

“The hurd and the main fibers can go into so many supply chains,” said Robin Destiche, a California native who now operates several hemp-related businesses from the Czech Republic