Behind tall fences and under the continuous watch of security cameras, Purdue University researchers are working on the next potential cash crop for Indiana.
The seeds of the plant could be used for a high-nutrition food, loaded with fiber, protein and essential fatty acids. Fibers from it can be made into rope, clothing and paper. Parts of the plant could be turned into biofuel, or even building materials.
For those working on the project, industrial hemp offers a wealth of possibility for the state.
“If it can be made with trees, cotton or plastic, it can be made with industrial hemp, only more environmentally friendly,” said Ashley Sample, a Whiteland resident and community coordinator for the Indiana Hemp Industries Association. “We have the flat lands, just like corn. We have the optimal weather in temperature and rain. So there’s no reason for it not to grow well here.”
Purdue researchers, industrial leaders and other supporters of industrial hemp are working to make the plant a viable option for Indiana farmers. The crop has only recently been approved to be grown in research facilities and universities, but enthusiasts hope that the work they’re doing will eventually lead to a growing program and manufacturing industry here locally.
But the current challenge is changing perception about the crop and helping people understand what it is.
“Obviously, hemp is not legal yet. Part of the effort to make hemp legal is an education process — the legislators, the farmers and the general public,” said George Blankenbajer, manager of southside-based Real Hemp.
Hemp is used in more than 20,000 products worldwide, Blankenbaker said. Blankenbaker is on the board of the Indiana Hemp Industries Association, as well as co-chair on the research committee of the Kentucky Hemp Industry Council.
His company Real Hemp was created as a subsidiary of his main company Stevia Corp., to focus on the commercialization of hemp. People can order hulled hemp seed, botanical skin salve and hemp-fiber bags from the company’s website.