Here’s an overview of events in the Kansas House over the week ending March 17:

Drought conditions, executive order

On March 13, Gov. Jeff Colyer signed Executive Order 18-11, which officially declares a Drought Watch, Drought Warning, or Drought Emergency in Kansas counties. The entire state is affected in one way or another as each of the 105 counties fits into one of the three drought severity categories.

The order also authorizes and directs agencies to implement appropriate responses under the Governor’s Drought Response Team.

McPherson County is a Drought Warning county.

Drought Emergency counties are Barber, Barton, Clark, Comanche, Edwards, Finney, Ford, Grant, Gray, Hamilton, Harper, Haskell, Hodgeman, Kearny, Kingman, Kiowa, Meade, Morton, Pawnee, Pratt, Reno, Rice, Sedgwick, Seward, Stafford, Stanton, Stevens, Sumner.

Even with the beneficial rains we received at the first part of this week, ongoing conditions will be uncertain.

Industrial hemp research

Also on March 13, the Agriculture Committee heard testimony on Senate bill 263, which would allow the Kansas Department of Agriculture to cultivate and research the uses of industrial hemp.

Principally, the research would be conducted in effort to analyze its required soils, growing conditions, harvest methods, and the potential for an industrial hemp market in Kansas.

Additionally, a pilot program in Russell County would be established to study its effect on economic development and the development of industrial hemp products.

Several members of the House expressed their support, in the Senate committee, as well as the Department of Agriculture, the Sierra Club, a large number small businesses, farmers, and private citizens.

Data was included that showed hemp uses 66 percent less water than corn, requires virtually no pesticides or fertilizers, and has great potential to improve agricultural and economic activity in rural Kansas.

In March of 2017, the House passed HB 2182 on a vote of 103-18. HB 2182 differs from SB 263, in that SB 263 solely allows the Department of Agriculture, either alone or in coordination with a state institution of higher education, to grow, cultivate, and research industrial hemp.

Drought and industrial hemp

The two topics in this week’s column form an interesting juxtaposition, as industrial hemp is an agricultural crop with a low water demand. Ag interests and economic development organizations from around the state are clamoring for some form of industrial hemp program to be put in place.

The crop would be particularly well suited to dry land farming, and the applications for the plant range from food to fiber to building materials, opening up a myriad of processing opportunities.

Rep. Les Mason is the Kansas House Representative for District 73, which covers much of McPherson County.