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'It's a frustrating plant': Iowa hemp grower working to develop seeds that'll thrive in Iowa soil

Some of the plants that do make it, end up getting destroyed because the state regulates the plant's levels of a psychoactive compound.

MADISON COUNTY, Iowa — Iowa's hemp program is now in its second year, but the plant is much harder to grow than many anticipated. 

Earl Ramey, a grower in Madison County, is just one of 50 people growing hemp in Iowa. 

"I worked all winter trying to develop some seed and move forward with it and developing clones and plants," Ramey said. 

You may be thinking hemp plants look a lot like marijuana plants. 

That's because they are. 

Cannabis Sativa plants are used to grow both. 

The difference lies in how much of a chemical called THC is in the plant. That's the psychoactive component of it. 

To be classified as hemp, THC levels must be below 0.3%.

Hemp can be very difficult to grow. 

Ramey actually lost 70% of the seeds that he hand-planted outdoors. Seedlings he planted did much better though. 

He said he's not growing hemp as a cash crop; he's trying to develop seeds that'll thrive in Iowa soil.

"Getting that perfect seed is every person's dream who's growing it," Ramey said. "It's a frustrating plant."

Before harvest, growers have to have the state test the plants to make sure THC levels fall below the legal limit.

If they don't, they have to destroy the plants.

"I highly recommend that you need to be commercially testing your crop through the growing season and watching that THC trend so you can predict when to harvest it before it crosses that magic no-go line," Iowa's Hemp Administrator Robin Pruisner said. 

Last year, Pruisner said 201 of the state's 733 acres of hemp had to be destroyed because THC levels were too high. 

"We're very accustomed to our corn and soybean crops in Iowa where one plant looks like a photocopy of the plant next to it," Pruisner said. "We're not seeing that in hemp right now. It's a little all over the place so one plant may be performing at a much higher THC content than the plant next to it."

You have to be licensed to grow hemp.

The period to apply for outdoor growing this year is already over, but you can apply to grow indoors at any time. 

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