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After Year-Long Delay, Hemp Production Set to Begin at LCO

By Joe Morey

News Editor


After a year-long delay in hemp production planning at Lac Courte Oreilles, the LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB) held a zoom conference with several persons involved in a research grant awarded to the LCO Ojibwe College that would provide for a hemp growing partnership between the Tribe, college and UW-Madison. The other persons include Amber Marlow of the LCO College, Dr. Shelby Ellison of UW-Madison and Thi Li, Director of Operations for the Sokaogon Medicinal Corporation (SMC).


Back in May of 2020, TGB member Tweed Shuman said Legal advised the TGB they couldn’t move forward on their plans at the time because the Tribe’s Department of Agriculture, although approved in the Hemp Ordinance, hadn’t yet been established, nor had a Regulator been hired.


“We don’t have a regulator in place to be able to approve cultivation licenses under our code. That means that we may not engage in the cultivation of hemp under tribal law until we do so,” Dyllan Linehan, Tribal Attorney, explained to the TGB at the time.


Shuman said the Tribe may have been in violation of federal, tribal and likely, state law if the Hemp seedlings were transported from Madison to the designated acreage on the LCO Reservation.


Now that the grant for the grow partnership has been approved, the TGB is moving forward immediately with the establishment of the Tribe’s Agricultural Department.


Dr. Ellison told the TGB via Zoom that in April they would begin germination of the seeds in a UW-Madison greenhouse and that in June, they would be ready for planting at LCO.


“We’re (the college) very excited to be a part of this research project,” Marlow told the TGB. She explained the grant puts the college in the driver’s seat during the growing and cultivating of the plant for educational purposes. What’s left of the grow after that can be used by the Tribe for its own purposes on the business end.


The TGB further discussed growing an additional acre or two of their own plants outside the scope of the research grant, in the same area next to the LCO Police Station where the partnership will be growing an acre.


The following article was printed May 17, 2020 describing the grant partnership which was delayed for one-year:


The LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB) is moving forward this summer with their hemp production plans with one to two acres set aside for growing CBD seedlings next to the LCO Police and Conservation Departments, explained TGB Member Tweed Shuman. He said the TGB is moving along in a partnership with the LCO Ojibwe College who’ve submitted an application to the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture’s tribal college research grant program.


If the grant is successful, Amber Marlow, Dean of Continuing Education and Extension will be the project director and ensure the timeline, activities, and objectives are being met. Marlow will oversee the project, data collection, supervision of interns, and regular communication with partners at UW-Madison.


“The grant would potentially start September 1 for three years and research will be in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Dr. Shelby Ellison. The $220,000 grant will allow the tribe to study the economic feasibility of growing hemp for CBD and do variety trials to determine which varieties grow best in our USDA plant hardiness zone 3b,” explained Marlow.


According to the grant proposal document, the seeds will be planted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Walnut Street Greenhouse in early May and transplanted to the Lac Courte Oreilles location in mid-June.


“Germination rates will be recorded for each variety. Soil tests will be conducted in Spring of 2021 and 2022 to address potential soil deficiencies. Seedlings will be transplanted in Mid-June using in-row spacing with 5’ centers and 5’ spacing between beds,” the proposal states.


Thi Le, Director of Operations for the Sokaogon Medicinal Corporation (SMC), will assist the Tribe in their growing operation and the SMC will process the harvest at their indoor grow facility in Mole Lake.


Shuman said the Tribe’s hemp operation this summer will focus on CBD oils and he added, the LCO Conservation Department will oversee the growing operation.


According to the grant proposal, CBD is one of more than 100 cannabinoids, including THC, that are found in the hemp plant. They interact directly with our body’s Endocannabinoid System. While THC is the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana that gives the ‘high’ sensation, CBD has been used to treat anxiety and pain but the strongest scientific evidence is for its effectiveness in treating epilepsy syndromes, specifically Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes.


Marlow added, “Another aspect of the research will be to plant the industrial hemp with a companion crop on approximately 2 acres. A hemp manager will be hired with partial funds through the grant. The hemp seed/ seedlings will be purchased with non-federal funds to allow the Tribe to sell the product and retain potential profits.”


Part of the grant will focus on companion planting. “Due to the relatively recent legalization of industrial hemp there are very few labeled synthetic herbicides and pesticides in hemp. While ideal for environmental sustainability, the lack of available options to deal with common agricultural pests places a large burden on the farmer to maintain yield and quality. One potential strategy to increase yield, quality, and profitability of hemp is to utilize the centuries-old tradition of companion planting,” the proposal states. “Companion planting is the planting of different crops in close proximity to one another to control pests, increase pollination, provide a habitat for beneficial insects, maximize the use of space, and to otherwise increase crop productivity. Additionally companion planting increases the odds of higher yields even if one crop fails or is negatively affected by natural hardships such as weather, pests or disease. Given the instability of the hemp market and the large between row spacing used in production, CBD hemp is an excellent candidate to study the opportunities that may be presented during companion planting. Before companion planting in hemp is adopted, research is needed to select suitable plant combinations and to determine how best to grow the two plant types together to ensure that the yield from the main crop is acceptable.”


The goals and objectives of the grant include cultivating Cannabis sativa on the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation, in a USDA plant hardiness zone 3b, for economic viability; to identify the most suitable Cannabis sativa varieties to grow on the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation; to evaluate the effects of companion cropping on total yield and cannabinoid content in Cannabis sativa; to measure the economic viability of cultivating Cannabis sativa for cannabinoids and the supplemental markets for companion crops; and to document and disseminate successful strategies for Cannabis sativa companion cropping to students, tribal members, and area farmers and gardeners.


According to the proposal, two LCOOC student interns and one UW-Madison intern will be hired per year to directly assist in the establishment, data collection, analysis, and presentation of results for the research project. The interns will create articles for public review during key intervals of the research process, and create PowerPoint presentations and outputs for community viewing at events such as LCOOC Natural Resource Symposium, Sustainable Living Fair or Earth Day events, area pow-wows and fairs/festivals. Interns will also present their research findings at the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) National Conference and the First American Land Grant Consortium (FALCON) annual conference.