Upon graduation, Tanner Sneed, senior in social sciences, plans to help run his family farm, but he won’t be helping grow sorghum or wheat — he help with the cultivation of hemp.
When industrial hemp production was legalized for Kansas in 2018, the Sneeds decided to take the leap into the industry.
PJ Sneed, the owner of Always Sunny Hemp and Bee Farm and Tanner’s father, worked as a burn unit nurse for over two decades before he decided to start growing hemp. PJ didn’t have much farming experience to speak of, but did not go in blind. Before he started his farm, he spent years researching and planning, and has been involved with hemp advocacy through the Planted Association of Kansas.
Industrial hemp is a variety of cannabis sativa, but must have a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol or THC level below 0.3 percent, and is therefore non-psychoactive. Since it’s a regulated substance, growing hemp requires licensing through the Kansas Department of Agriculture, fees and fingerprinting.
However, the hardest part of getting started, PJ said, was just the decision to do it.
“Just getting over that first step, ‘Let’s do it,’” PJ said. “I think we were ready otherwise, just as much knowledge as you’re going to have without putting hands on permanently. I think just that initial step of, ‘Okay do we really want to do this?’ And obviously it’s a career change for me, and changes our family dynamics until we’re successful.”
Located south of Hutchinson, Kansas, the farm lost the majority of their crop due to flooding last year, but PJ said it was useful in terms of learning what to do for the future.
“Last year was a very educational and obviously a bad year,” PJ said. “Learning the different things, the unexpected, just dealing with those and putting them in your knowledge bank to use for next year.”
Industrial hemp in Kansas: A possible avenue for a sustainable future
Always Sunny is part of Kansas State’s Industrial Hemp Research program. Though hemp was common in Kansas before the state criminalized it along with all cannabis production in 1927, it now presents new territory for farmers in the modern era.
According to K-State’s Industrial Hemp Resources there isn’t data about “the modern agronomic era to guide industrial hemp production decisions.”
Tanner said that while the purpose of the crop right now is is to produce cannabidiol or CBD, they plan to move into the composite side as well. Hemp products will be revolutionary, he said, and can be used to make nearly anything from clothing to a concrete substitute that can be used for construction.
“It grows faster than cotton, faster than trees, it is more environmentally friendly,” Tanner said. “It’ll revolutionize the world once it gets going.”
While PJ said tides have definitely changed over the past two years in Kansas, there is still a stigma surrounding the crop’s appearance.
“It looks like marijuana,” PJ said. “It looks, smells, you know, everything. Just getting over the stigma. It’s not marijuana, the THC is less than the 0.3 percent that’s allowed.”
Cole Bredemeier, senior in horticulture, interned at Always Sunny last summer, and plans on going into cannabis production post graduation.
“It was a great experience,” Bredemeier said. “I have a passion for cannabis. I was like, ‘I’m just gonna [go into the industry] regardless of what my parents think, what people in society think, my peers.”
When it comes to cannabis and hemp, there’s just a lot of misinformation, Tanner said.
“I think it’s just educating people, there’s just people who don’t know,” Tanner said. “And just putting it in the positive view that it should be in, because it is such a positive plant, and there’s such a beautiful community that comes with hemp.”
While Tanner’s plans are currently to “head back to the farm,” he said in the future he might return to K-State someday and take agronomy classes.