Huskerland Hemp finds success in Gage County

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Gage County business is finding success cultivating a crop that’s relatively new to the area.

Production of hemp became legal under the 2018 Farm Bill. Despite criticism and confusion of hemp with marijuana, it’s used in a variety of industries including construction, bio-fuel, food, fiber, paper, oils, textiles and medicines.

Dick Penner, founder of Huskerland Hemp, said he saw the hemp industry as a financially lucrative opportunity that he could use to help people.

“I’ve always liked to grow things,” Penner said. “When I was a boy I grew tomatoes and had a route of customers that I would deliver to in Beatrice and to some grocery stores.”

Penner said he bought his farm west of Beatrice in December 1976 and started a Grade A Dairy. He milked cows 24 years and had about 500 acres of corn and soybeans. He sold the cows in 2000.

“It was tough to make money as a dairy farmer,” said Penner.

He graduated with a degree in engineering in 2005 and is employed at Landoll Corporation in Marysville, Kan. in addition to his farming operation.

“We had hopes of getting one of the first licenses in Nebraska in 2019, but were not granted one until 2020,” said Penner.

Huskerland Hemp, LLC was formed by Dick and Marlene Penner and Gareth and Angie Penner. The partners have grown from both seeds and clones. They specifically grow female plants for bloom production.

Penner said it is a process from seed to harvest that is very labor intensive.

“We start with a feminized seed. The seeds can cost $1-$15 and are the size of a mustard seed,” Penner said. “We use tweezers to move them from a package to a cup,” said Penner.

The seedlings are transplanted to a flat and then to a 5-inch deep pot at about three weeks. They are transplanted to the prepared field at approximately nine weeks.

The plants need to be observed closely to be sure the feminized seed does not exhibit male plant parts at anytime in the growing season. There is also concern for cross-pollenization from wild ditch weed with seeds that can travel up to seven miles.

As the plant matures the THC and the CBD levels increase. If the level goes above .03, the inspectors say the plant has gone hot and needs to be destroyed. Destruction of the plant is observed by law enforcement.

“When we see the plant start to bloom and when that gets to a certain point, we call the inspectors. Once we receive the go-ahead from the inspector, we have 15 days to harvest the crop,” Penner said. “There is a tremendous amount of science, testing, regulation, finances and learning that goes into this process.”

Hemp was used during World War II for fiber and Henry Ford built an experimental car body of hemp fiber which was said to be 10 times stronger than steel.

Penner said some farmers focus growing for fiber for paper which requires more plants and a different process.

“We are not raising a smokable marijuana,” he said. “We use our product for CBD oils, lotions, balms and edibles. Our products can help people with pain and a variety of ailments. We just need to educate the public on what this is and what it isn’t.”

Huskerland Hemp plants about a ½ acre.

“We took our dried blooms to Colorado for processing and got back a five-gallon bucket of product our first year,” Penner said. “It wasn’t even full and it came with a $10,000 price tag.”

Marlene and Angie Penner said they were not immediately excited about the business venture, but wanted to be a part of helping people.

“We even struggled to find a bank that would work with us,” Angie said.

“The first year was really hard,” Marlene added. “I feel like it’s gotten better, but in addition to the intense manual labor, there were so many hurdles and now we are having trouble selling the product.”

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