January 25, 2021

Learning the ropes

Experienced Iowa ag family diversifies with industrial hemp

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Greg Dudley is a relatively young farmer, but he’s had a plethora of experiences for a guy his age.

This is Greg’s fifth year farming on his own after he came back to his hometown of Stuart from studying agricultural business and agronomy at Iowa State University.

Greg, 27, says Iowa State was a good experience and he learned a lot, however he says he’s learning just as much by farming back home now than he did in college.

One of the biggest tidbits Greg, his twin brother Jeff, brother Grant and father Alan have picked up is the importance of having a varied approach to farming.

The boys, who have a sister named Jennifer, are fifth-generation farmers.

Being diversified can mean greater financial stability in ever-wavering market climates for corn and soybean growers, and in livestock production.

The Dudleys grow corn and soybeans, but they’ve also found a niche in the last two years growing industrial hemp.

The history of hemp

According to the Industrial Hemp Industry of Iowa, hemp was an important crop in the country’s early history. It was needed for making rope, canvas and paper.

By the late 1930s, the federal government banned its production with the Marijuana Tax Act.

Hemp made a rebound in the next decade, during World War II, when it was again deemed essential for making world affairs go. It was made illegal again after the war.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach clarifies that hemp and marijuana come from the same genus of plants, but they are defined differently, chemically. Industrial hemp is a plant having less than .3% THC, anything more is marijuana and remains illegal.

Passage of the 2018 Farm Bill in December and the passage of Senate File 599 by the Iowa Legislature have helped usher in the legalization of growing hemp in Iowa.

The application deadline for the outdoor growing season for hemp was May 15. The Dudleys obtained one of those permits, however they grow most of their hemp in Minnesota because when they began, it was not legal to grow it in Iowa.

Getting started

The Dudleys were sitting at home one night in early 2018 and Greg’s maternal grandfather called them up pointing them to an article in a magazine that explained industrial hemp and its benefits to producers and those who use its by-products. He encourage Alan and his sons to look into it for their farm.

The Dudleys worked with their cousins, the Rittgers family of Rolfe, Iowa, near Pocahontas, and sought the advice of American Hemp Ventures in Aurora, Colorado, to see how growing hemp is done. Colorado is a state much more advanced in growing industrial hemp than Iowa.

In May 2019, Greg and Jeff moved to their grandparents’ place at Okoboji with their cousin and were able to lease land in southern Minnesota, just over the border near the town of Lakefield, where they built eight 30-by-150 foot state-of-the-art greenhouses to grow hemp.

“It’s an elaborate building,” Alan exclaimed. “It’s not just an old greenhouse, it’s amazing. They didn’t have any instructions, they just brought them in and dumped them off. They’re all electronic with fans, sprinklers. They’re impressive buildings.”

By producing seed for hemp, the Dudleys and Rittgers grow hemp for farmers who want to grow it in their fields.

With excess plant remaining after the seed germination process, the family found a processing plant in Indiana that processes the flower into CBD oil.

Altru Hemp

Altru Hemp began selling a CBD line of products that are by-products of the hemp the Dudleys and Rittgers produce.

Products available include dog treats, droplets for under the tongue, gummies and topical creams for pain relief.

In addition to selling these products online, Altru Hemp products are sold at various locations in central and southwest Iowa. Greg explains that chiropractic offices are often big clients willing to sell these products.

“The things to consume are more for anxiety and depression,” Greg said. “There’s been a lot of research to a lot of different things leading it a lot of promising things that it can help with.”

The school of hard knocks

Once the market for it grows farther in Iowa and more processing plants are available, Greg predicts growing industrial hemp here will be quite profitable for farmers.

The Dudleys and Rittgers have had to primarily learn their way on their own, prescribing to the school of hard knocks. Not many in the industrial hemp world are willing to show their hand to others for how it’s done.

Considering how hard they’ve worked to get to this point, Alan is impressed with what his sons and nephews have accomplished in growing their hemp operation.

“I’m impressed with what they’ve done,” Alan said. “I have little to nothing to do with it. It grows in the ditch anywhere you don’t want it to and can’t kill it, but if you look at it wrong up there [in our greenhouses] it dies.”