The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe wants to grow industrial hemp and is seeking that right through a court hearing today.
On March 8, the tribe applied with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a permit to grow the crop but did not hear back. The tribe, like a state, is allowed to apply for the right to grow hemp in its territory and it has to meet seven criteria.
If those criteria are met, which the tribe has done, the federal government is required to approve or disapprove the application within 60 days, according to the civil action filed against the agriculture department and Secretary Sonny Perdue. The government has not ruled one way or the other.
“The tribe has expressed and USDA is aware that the 2019 hemp growing season has already started on the tribe’s land, and the window to plant will end soon,” the complaint says.
Today’s court hearing asks for a temporary restraining order against the government to let the tribe proceed, said Seth Pearman, tribal lawyer.
If the ruling is in the tribe’s favor, it would still have time to get this year’s crop planted, he said. Otherwise, it would have to wait a year and lose out on some of the market that others already are getting into, he said.
“It’s kind of a super crop right now,” Pearman said. “It’s just in real high demand. We’d like to be a part of that market.”
The tribe plans for about 360 acres of hemp plus use of the indoor growing facility in the previous maintenance building. The fields dedicated to hemp are north of Flandreau along Highway 13 and north of 227th Street, and south of Flandreau near S.D. Highway 34 and 480th Avenue.
The plan calls for using as many tribal and local employees as possible to plant and harvest the crop, which takes about 90 to 120 days to maturity.
“It’s a very hardy plant,” he said. “Generally, the plants are a little more like corn than anything.”
The complaint against the federal government says the tribe removed land from its regular ag leasing program to dedicate it to the production of hemp. Because there has been no action on the application, the tribe’s investment and relationship with potential customers is at risk. That means the money needed for the tribe’s budget for other programs and for jobs also is at risk, the complaint says.
“It’s been a high priority for the executive committee of the tribe,” Pearman said.
Hemp is not genetically the same as marijuana and is used for a variety of products, including cosmetics, clothing, personal care items, paper, plastics, construction materials and more. Hemp generates $700 million in domestic sales annually, the tribe says.
Once harvested, the tribe has a place to market the product, as well, Pearman said.
“We’d be participating in a market outside of the state because the state of South Dakota has not legalized industrial hemp,” he said.