DE SOTO — Joe Bisogno's belief in the farming, processing and manufacturing potential of industrial hemp inspired the opening of the state's first educational academy dedicated to the alternative crop.

In short, he said, it made good sense to begin by training farmers to properly grow hemp, which is no longer an outlaw commodity.

"Industrial hemp is not pot, but it is a pot of gold for Kansas farmers," he said Thursday at the ribbon-cutting for America's Hemp Academy.

In April, Gov. Jeff Colyer signed legislation creating a pathway for production of industrial hemp for research purposes. It wasn't to get the camel's nose under the tent to advance recreational marijuana, he said. The objective is to set the foundation for resurgence of hemp as a production crop and promote economic development in rural Kansas, he said.

That preceded President Donald Trump's approval in December of the new federal farm bill, ushered through the political process by U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., that legalized hemp farming.

"What I'm hearing from farmers across the state — northeast, southwest, northwest Kansas — they're going to be looking at this," Colyer said. "There is a lot of work to do it right. It's not going to be for everyone."

"Three, four or five years from now you're going to see today as a real essential step forward," the Republican governor said. "There has been a lot of discussion about how this could look as a mature product. Where are we going to be 10 years from now? With the industrial uses that are out there, we think this could be a major crop for us — one of the top five crops grown in the state of Kansas."

Kansas farmers produce massive quantities of wheat, corn, soybeans, sorghum and hay. Breaking hemp into that top tier would be astounding.

Industrial hemp stalks can been converted to clothing, rope, carpeting and caulking, as well as insulation, cardboard and newsprint. Seeds can be processed into coatings, solvents, varnishes, inks and fuel. Stems have been transformed into lotions, shampoos and soaps. Flowers can be used in the extraction of CBD oil, an option for pain relief that doesn't feature the mind-altering effects of marijuana.

Bisogno, who started the Mr. Goodcents restaurant chain in 1988, said he got involved with hemp about five years ago when he asked the Kansas attorney general if it would be possible to produce hemp cookies at a plant in De Soto. The answer from the state's top law enforcement officer was, of course, "No."

Bisogno said he didn't let go of the idea and traveled widely to study the hemp business. His belief in the crop was strong enough to start a company called KMC, which stands for Kansas Miracle Crop. The state's climate and soil are right for hemp, he said.

"The latitude line is 1 degree off the ideal latitude to grow hemp. The other thing is Kansas can grow two crops a year: one in the spring and one in late summer or early fall," Bisogno said.

State Rep. Willie Dove, a Republican from Bonner Springs, struggled for six years to get a hemp bill through the Legislature and across a governor's desk. In March, the House approved 123-1 legislation authorizing the Kansas Department of Agriculture to initiate research on the alternative crop. The Senate followed 40-0 in April, and Colyer signed the bill.

"Kansas was one of the leading states in industrial hemp," Dove said. "We can bring Kansas back to where it once was."

Colyer said the objective was to gradually ramp up production of hemp to serve an expanding universe of commercial applications that added value to the raw crop.

"Having that added value — that's how you get money into rural Kansas. That's a way you can rejuvenate communities," the governor said.

In January, the De Soto academy plans to begin offering four-day certification courses led by agronomists and botanists.

"Hemp is the future of the next generation, but proper education and training is critical to its success," Bisogno said.