Hemp might be Minnesota's next bumper crop

Updated: August 30, 2019 06:53 PM

Governor Tim Walz traveled to Hastings Friday to promote Minnesota's rapidly growing hemp farming sector at a time many farmers struggle with low prices and a trade war with China. The governor and state lawmakers want to help find new markets for their products.

"I think for us to continue to find those markets and expand and innovate as Minnesota's always done this is the place for us to highlight, which we think is a great future and great opening," the governor said at a news conference at Minnesota Hemp Farms.

Minnesota first authorized a limited hemp production program in 2015 and fewer than 10 farmers took part. That all changed when the 2018 federal farm bill removed hemp from a list of "dangerous" drugs. Now, more than 500 farmers are growing hemp on nearly 8,000 acres. The plants can be used to make everything from CBD oil to fabrics and even food products.

What is industrial hemp and how common is it in Minnesota?

According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, industrial hemp is defined as being the plant Cannabis sativa L., and any part of the plant, whether growing or not, including the plant's seeds and all the plant's derivatives. It is an agricultural crop that can be grown for fiber, grain, or medical-type usage. 

During its pilot program in 2017, the MDA reported there were 56 total industrial hemp fields in Minnesota, after the agency approved 40 pilot program certificate holders. The average field size was 22 acres, according to the MDA. 

Minnesota State Representative Karla Bigham (DFL-Cottage Grove) is hoping a big processing plant or two will open in Minnesota so farmers don't have to ship their hemp to places like Colorado or Canada.

"I think it will save costs for the farmers in general because right now they're sending it out to Colorado, sending it back, and that obviously has a cost to it that they would rather not have if it was local," she said at the news conference near Hastings.

Walz noted the hemp issue is separate from the recreational marijuana debate. Hemp is in the marijuana "family" of plants, but has a much lower THC level, the compound that makes users high.

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Tom Hauser

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