A Stringer couple Monday morning presented to the Jasper County Board of Supervisors a local agricultural business venture they have begun, and say it will help boost the local economy and help local farmers.
Melanie Sorenson, the executive director of the newly formed Mississippi Industrial Hemp Association, and her husband, Eric, explained to the Board of Supervisors hemp is the business they are getting into and plan to bring to the county along with a processing center. They told the board members it could potentially in the future be a billion dollar business for the area.
“We want it to stay in Jasper County. We want it to be part of this particular area because this is where we live. It is a billion dollar business that can be up and running strong in about five years,” Melanie Sorenson mentioned to the board.
Hemp is a variety of cannabis plant species grown specifically for industrial use. It does not contain THC, the chemical makeup that in marijuana presents users a “high.” According to the Sorensons, hemp can be used to make a wide array of products, including lotions and oils, and even poultry feed and bedding for poultry houses.
“Hemp is not marijuana. It is a lot of times confused that way, but it is not. Hemp is a traded future market on the Chicago Mercantile. It is designed to make other aspects besides anything having to do with marijuana,” Melanie Sorenson explained to the board. “It is the same plant, yes, but it comes in different strains. The different strains will let us know where it is headed. Before it gets to a certain point, we can test it to be sure it hasn’t gone ‘hot.’ At that point in time, when it is not ‘hot,’ then it can be used for other types of products.”
According to Sorenson, a number of local farmers have expressed interest in the growing of hemp as either a primary crop or a secondary crop.
“We have set up the association (Mississippi Industrial Hemp Association) to support farmers in the state of Mississippi to help inform them on growing a new crop, hemp,” she mentioned. “Some of the products the farmers will be looking at producing will be things like animal bedding, and things like chicken feed. It is now being processed through the American Feed Association as being an outlet to use for chicken feed as an alternative. It is high in protein and produces better broilers and better eggs from the laying hens. Hemp bedding is also useful. It has zero dust, and we understand that in chicken houses a part of what is a problem is the amount of dust that is created. Its absorbency level is high, and this is just another product that would be a product that farmers can use.”
Sorenson explained to the Board of Supervisors three things that were lacking in getting the business off the ground, according to the State of Mississippi and Drug Task Force, but they are working toward those goals of educating farmers and local law enforcement, as well as devising an avenue for a processing plant and distribution.
“What we are trying to do with the association is to do part of the three things the task force requested be done through the state. That was to educate the farmers on what strains they need to use and how to test their soil to make sure the soil is good for this type of crop,” she said.
“As far as eduction for law enforcement, it’s not they aren’t educated on it; it’s just that there are ways to go about testing it in the field. We’d like to provide law enforcement with a testing kit that will be available that comes at a price tag of about $13,000. It will be given to law enforcement for them to use in aiding them, if they feel like they need to test a crop. All of the crops are located with ‘geospace’ points so that everyone that would need know knows where that crop is located, and that is approved to be a hemp growing area.”
Sorenson invited the Board of Supervisors to a “Community and Farmers Meeting” that will be held at the Buster Hamm Building (1128 MS-15) in Stringer on January 14, at 7 p.m. During the meeting, community resources and education, hemp based products, and seed genetics will be presented. A question and answer session will be held, along with the presentation of a no-cost pilot program for local farmers.
“We will be starting a pilot program (for local farmers) that will consist of approximately 40 acres. The association will supply the seed for that, and will supply the testing and consultation so the farmer can have the best result in the end,” Sorenson explained. “We already have approximately 23 farmers that will be invited (to the meeting) that have an interest. There are a total of 275 approved (hemp) growers in the state of Mississippi right now. They are approved through the United States Department of Agriculture, because Mississippi has not yet put up their time and effort to come up with a hemp producing committee to dot all the regulations. So, everything will fall under the (U.S.) Department of Agriculture regulations as of now. The state has one year from their passage of the hemp producing act, which was last year in 2020, to get their process together for the state. At that time the United States Department of Agriculture will approve that plan, and then we will fall under that plan for Mississippi.
“What we want to do is support farmers. This (hemp) is a commodity that was halted for basically no reason at all because it can be confused sometimes with marijuana growing, which is not what we are advocating at all.”
Eric Sorenson went on to explain that hemp products already flow heavily into Mississippi from other states and nearby states, create vast revenue, and that the state is not capitalizing on the commodity.
“There are two facilities (in Alabama) that we know are opening. There’s one at the Georgia/Alabama line. It’s a 75,000 square foot facility that has opened up. There is another one in Alabama that is opening up, and it’s a 60,000 square foot facility. That kind of tells you how big these facilities are,” he said. “Mississippi is the very last. They are behind. It’s not that we are moving fast, it’s that Mississippi is moving too slow. So much money is leaving our state.”