More than 600 people will be growing hemp this year in Michigan
More than 600 people are getting involved in the hemp industry this year in Michigan.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development issued 600 industrial hemp licenses to farmers during four day-long licensing events held at the end of April.
Though industrial hemp is now legal in Michigan and the U.S., the federal government is still developing the rules for a national hemp program. Rather than wait until 2020 to start the industrial hemp industry in Michigan, officials decided to launch a pilot program using a provision in the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill.
The program garnered little to no interest before hemp was legalized nationally through the 2018 Farm Bill, said Gina Alessandri, pesticide and plant pest management division director for MDARD.
“This is very different,” Alessandri said. “I think we knew there was going to be a lot of interest. I don’t think we have a good grasp of what to expect as to the interest level long-term.”
Alessandri will eventually oversee the formal industrial hemp program in Michigan, once the federal government issues its rules and then later approves Michigan’s program. How long that will take is unclear; state officials said they’ll continue the pilot program until formal rules are in place.
For now, Michigan farmers are allowed to grow hemp for research purposes under the 2014 Farm Bill. What research means, in this case, is more loosely defined.
“It’s not research in the true sense of the word research,” Alessandri said, explaining there is no scientific data collection process that accompanies the hemp pilot program.
Instead, hemp farmers will submit a final report at the end of the year to MDARD on the success they’ve had that year using different soil types, genetics and pest management systems.
“It’s more informative than anything. If there were any red flags that we learned through growers of their experiences, we’d have to evaluate what we do with the information,” Alessandri said.
In order to grow hemp in Michigan this year, farmers have to register with the state and obtain a license. The grower registration fee is $100, and a license to process and handle hemp costs $1,350.
Hemp is related to marijuana, but is genetically different and contains a maximum of 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the active component in marijuana that causes psychoactive effects. Hemp is valued for its fiber — but the entire plant can be used to make a variety of products including fabric, carpeting, insulation, livestock feed and plastics. It is also a source of a hot product in the alternative therapy market — cannabidiol, or CBD oil. CBD oil can also be extracted from marijuana, which makes its regulation difficult for officials.
At the end of the growing season farmers will have to have their crop tested to make sure the plants are at or below the legal definition of hemp — which is 0.3 percent THC.
Thousands of acres of hemp being legally harvested in Michigan for the first time
Brewing operations began Friday, March 16, 2018 for Pothole Season, a pale ale made with hemp seeds at Brew Detroit in the city’s Corktown neighborhood. Robert Orler, quality and brewery manager explains the process.
LANSING – While many people are anxiously awaiting the start of Michigan’s recreational market, a group of farmers and processors working with a different strain of the cannabis plant are celebrating their first harvest.
A volunteer walks through a hemp field at a farm in Springfield, CO, in 2013, during the first known harvest of industrial hemp in the U.S. since the 1950s. (Photo: P. Solomon Banda/AP)
“We see an opportunity to truly scale the plant to produce CBD and the fibers from the hemp plant,” said Dave Crabill, vice president of IHemp Michigan, an association of farmers, processors and manufacturers across the state.
The group met in Lansing on Monday to talk about the introduction of hemp into Michigan’s agriculture industry.
Since the 2018 farm bill legalized hemp production, Michigan started a pilot program, registering and licensing 572 growers, who planned to plant 32,614 acres, and 423 processors. And after planting in the spring and summer, the farmers are in the midst of harvesting their first crop.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development doesn’t know yet how many of those acres were actually planted, said Gina Allessandri, the state’s industrial hemp program director, but should have a better idea by the end of the year what kind of yield the first crop will produce.
David Connor switched from farming blueberries in Paw Paw, in southwest Michigan, to 26 acres of industrial hemp. This year, he has gotten about 20,000 pounds of hemp that will be split between the hemp flower, which will be used for CBD products, and the hemp stalks that will be used in everything from building materials, textiles and paper materials.
“We’re making some great headway in Michigan,” he said. “And in 2020, we think it’s going to be a huge year for Michigan.”
The return on investment is promising, Connor said. An acre of corn in Michigan during 2018, for example, yielded about 153 bushels at $3.55 a bushel, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for a value of $543 per acre. Connor said the market value of the products from the CBD plant could be as high as $10,000 to $12,000 per acre.
“But this is an extremely labor-intensive process,” he said, noting that since he’s just finishing up his harvest, the market value is still an open question. “But we’re very optimistic.”
Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis plants, but hemp has much lower concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis that provides the high for users, than marijuana plants. Since 1970, all cannabis has been categorized as a controlled substance and, as such, considered illegal by the federal government.
The 2018 farm bill, however, legalized hemp and provides for regulating the growth of the plant. The fibers and stalks are used for a variety of purposes, including clothing, construction materials, paper, and plastic composites, while the seeds and flowers are used in health food and body care products containing cannabidiol, better known as CBD. The bill also allows for the transportation of hemp-based products across state lines as long as the THC level is below 0.3% level.
The risk involved for hemp farmers in Michigan is that any plant that tests above the 0.3% level has to be destroyed.
CBD-infused products derived from hemp range from tinctures, cream, candy and dog treats to water. CBD is touted, mostly anecdotally, as an ingredient that will do everything from provide relief from chronic pain and anxiety, make your skin smooth and silky, and calm skittish pets. The market for CBD products is expected to grow to $22 billion by 2022.
Casey Yosin, founder and CEO of Total Health Co., a CBD processing facility in Auburn Hills,, transitioned from the building industry to CBD production after a sports injury left him bedridden for six months. He researched the benefits of CBD and started using the plant.
“From my personal experience, I used CBD to heal,” he said. “I figured it’s something I can do to get out and help people.”
An additional benefit for the hemp farmer, said Gary Schuler, founder and CEO of GTF LLC in Grand Rapids, is the ability to use the entire plant. His company dries and processes the hemp waste, which is then used in food products, animal feed, biodegradable plastic and building products.
“We’re really helping decrease the carbon footprint,” he said, because some of the petroleum-based plastics can be replaced by the biodegradable plastic made from hemp waste.
While waiting for final rules from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which will regulate CBD-infused food products, the state plans to continue the hemp program next year and will still register and license anyone who wants to get involved in the program. For more information on the state’s industrial hemp program, click here.
The state’s other emerging cannabis-based business — marijuana for adult recreational use — will begin after the state begins accepting business license applications on Nov. 1 and awarding licenses by the end of the year.
Michigan hemp farmers and processors are celebrating their first harvest amid hopes for a booming new industry in Michigan.