Alternative crops help Indiana farmer after trying spring
SEYMOUR, Ind. — This year has certainly been a different one for local farmers, who battled unprecedented conditions during spring planting.
The unusual spring also led to a diverse harvest for one local farmer.
Brian Thompson has typically raised corn and soybeans, but this year, in addition to those crops, he has grown and harvested hemp and grain sorghum.
Thompson had planned well ahead of the 2019 planting season that he would raise hemp, but a soggy spring with persistent rains forced him to think outside the box by planting grain sorghum, also known as milo.
The grain is primarily used for birdseed, Thompson said, but has some of the same uses as corn. In fact, the sorghum plant looks like a smaller stalk of corn with a large head of seeds on the top.
The crop has drawn a lot of questions from those who are curious about it, Thompson said.
“My wife, Karla, and I have been stopped in the grocery store by people who want to know what it is and what it’s used for,” he said with a laugh while operating a combine to harvest the crop off of State Road 11. “Everyone calls it funny-looking corn.”
Even though Thompson planted it this year, sorghum does not represent a large part of his acreage, as he planted it in about 300 of the 3,000 acres he farms. He said he last planted the crop about 10 years ago and first planted it in the 1990s.
Thompson said he decided to plant the crop after the wet spring complicated corn planting.
By the time the soil dried well enough to be worked again, it was too late to plant corn, he said. Thompson was left with the choice to plant beans, plant grain sorghum or leave some fields bare.
Leaving the fields bare was not an option, he said, and he decided to go with the grain sorghum because soybean prices were depressed due to the trade conflict.
“I’m not really good at walking away and saying, ‘You win,’ and I don’t give up very easy,” Thompson said. “The market tells us what to do. It’s a lot like corn and is priced like corn. It’s kind of an emergency crop.”
Thompson said other farmers have planted the crop, which has attracted a lot of birds to one of his fields.
The birds usually don’t bother other crops, but Thompson estimates they have taken five to 10 bushels an acre off of one field, which adds up.
“They found this and thought it was Christmas,” he said with a laugh.
Oddly enough, Thompson has planted about 200 acres of sorghum in Hamilton Township, where the birds haven’t bothered it.
“They just haven’t found it yet,” he said.
Thompson wrapped up the hemp harvest a few weeks ago. He and his son, Ben, along with Adam Myers and Don Shoemaker planted about 15 acres of the crop in early June. They were only ones in the county selected to grow hemp this year.
It will be used to make cannabidiol, or CBD oil, by Thrive Well LLC, a division of Kocolene.
The company’s position in the market will be as a CBD processor, extracting the cannabidiol from locally grown hemp and selling it to other businesses to produce CBD products. The oil may be used in consumable oils, pills and gummies, bath bombs, topical ointments, bottled water and even pet products.
In June, the city of Seymour gave Kocolene a $1.5 million tax break on an investment in manufacturing equipment and technology, including extractors, purifiers, distillers and more.
As demand in the state and nationwide continues to rise for the product, Kocolene has positioned itself as one of Indiana’s first processors of CBD oil.
The product has been said to alleviate inflammation, pain, anxiety, insomnia and seizures and can be used for a host of other conditions without the dangers of addiction.
Thompson said the hemp harvest was completed manually. The group tried mechanic harvesting with a silage chopper and tried a tobacco harvester with adaptions but found manual was better.
So that meant crews had to cut the seven acres of plants and load them into a wagon to be delivered. There were between 1,600 and 1,800 plants per acre, Thompson estimated.
“There were quite a few plants,” he said. “We worked every morning for a few weeks where we’d cut the plants and deliver them to Thrive Well.”
The group used various genetic groups of plant to see which ones would grow better in Jackson County. That led to a variety in sizes and conditions.
“Some were small, others were like a Christmas tree,” he said. “Overall, production seemed good, and the plants looked good and healthy.”
Thompson said he enjoyed the first year of learning and interacting with the team at Kocolene. He said he feels he used different skills that made him better overall and looks forward to the second year of production.
“Now, we have a base of knowledge, and we know what to do moving forward,” he said. “It’s exciting and interesting, and it feels better knowing something about it rather than this time last year where I didn’t know much at all.”
Thompson said the unusual spring also has led to an unusual harvest for other crops even though he is about 90% complete. Crops in fields have matured at different times, which complicated the process.
“It’s the first time I’ve had to stop the combine for a reason other than the rain,” he said. “Some of the fields just weren’t ready.”
Source: The Tribune
Information from: The (Seymour) Tribune, http://www.tribtown.com