Although farmers in multiple states will be making money this year on their first legal industrial hemp crop in 80 years, the Kansas Department of Agriculture has set its "research" license and fee structure so exorbitantly high the practical effect will be to keep Kansas farmers out of the industry – again.
These jacked-up fees – over $1,200 for initial state paperwork before a farmer ever even scuffs his boots in the dirt for a hem[ crop – appear aimed at discouraging Kansans from dipping a toe in the water of what will soon be a thriving option for crop rotations and a potentially lucrative addition to various Kansas agriculture revenue streams. With its fees so high, it's hard to imagine why KDOA wasn't more excited when the Kansas hemp bill was debated two years ago in the legislature. At double the fees other states charge, KDOA should have been able to muster a little better than a "neutral" position on the bill when it was debated by legislators.
Here's the way this shakedown shakes out: for a crop which has no intoxicant, narcotic or psychoactive potential, the Kansas Department of Agriculture intends to pop each applicant (whether grower, distributor, processor, etc.) a $47 fingerprint fee. Since industrial hemp is no more a threat to your senses than corn, we have to wonder if a fingerprint fee will be required to grow corn next year as well?
From there we move to a basic application fee – $200 into the KDOA coffers just to fill out the form. This is twice the $100 fee charged by states like Kentucky, which actually want to encourage the crop.
Now that the state has your fingerprints, your phone number, your social security number and presumably knows where to send your mail, you have to pay an extra $1,000 for the grower's license. Yep, a thousand clams.
If you want to get into the business end of industrial hemp and operate in Kansas, a distributor license is going to set you back $2,000 before you even buy a single paper clip. If you want to invest in the Kansas economy with your own money for specialized equipment and a facility to become a processor of hemp fiber or grain – that's a cool $3,000 for the privilege of doing it in Kansas. And if you want to process the high-end floral presses that squeeze out that expensive hemp oil – Kansas is going to stick you for $6,000.
By comparison, Kansas makers of the demon alcohol skate by on the cheap. For a farm winery – up and running lock, stock and barrel for $500; farm winery outlet to sell your own hootch, just an extra $100; want to package and sell your own product from your microbrewery? Check your sofa cushions for a measily $200. Now, nobody's ever gotten intoxicated on industrial hemp because it's like getting intoxicated on alfalfa. And please note: these alcohol license fees, designed to "encourage" wineries and the brewing arts apparently for tourism sake, are for two years, not just one.
In fairness some, but not many, states have higher license fees associated with their hemp "research" programs than the Sunflower state. Not many, however, are foisting those bureaucratic junk fees on farmers who've been losing money on $3.70 corn and wrestling with soybean prices under $8.50 per bushel in recent years. In Vermont, where they grow mostly sweet corn, potatoes and apples, the license fee last year for a 100 acre industrial hemp plot was $25.
Considering Kansas' continual low finish in the nation's economic growth rankings, we have to wonder how many times in the past 100 years we've looked squarely at solid opportunities – but been unable to get out of our own way in order to realize them? Unfortunately, industrial hemp may be the next one. ###
-Dane Hicks is publisher of The Anderson County Review in Garnett, Kan.