Michigan Hemp Growers Expanding Production After Successful 2019 Inaugural Crop

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development today unveiled results from the state’s 2019 Industrial Hemp Ag Pilot Program Final Report, marking the successful completion of the freshman year of the new program.
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The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development today unveiled results from the state’s 2019 Industrial Hemp Ag Pilot Program Final Report. // Stock photo

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development today unveiled results from the state’s 2019 Industrial Hemp Ag Pilot Program Final Report, marking the successful completion of the freshman year of the new program.

In April 2019, MDARD established Michigan’s first Industrial Hemp Ag Pilot Program so farmers, processors, and state colleges could grow, handle, process, and research industrial hemp. Industrial hemp is Cannabis (Cannabis sativa L.) that has equal to or less than 0.3% 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

For more than 10,000 years, hemp has been useful for its fiber. Over time, it was added to enhance numerous commercial applications, including food products such as grain, fiber, paper, biofuels, textiles, paint, clothing, biodegradable plastics as well as non-intoxicating medical compounds such as cannabidiol (CBD).

George Washington grew hemp at Mount Vernon and Ben Franklin owned a paper mill that processed hemp into parchment more than 200 years ago, while the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were written on hemp paper. It was banned in recent decades, but is now coming back due to relaxed federal rules.

In total, respondents reported they anticipated on planting 8,749 acres of hemp outdoors and 424,191 square feet of hemp indoors for the 2020 growing season. This represents an increase in the total amount of outdoor hemp acreage for the 2020 season by approximately 134 percent.

Participants in the 2019 pilot program were required to enter into a research agreement with MDARD. Under the agreement, each registered grower or licensed processor-handler was required to submit a research report to MDARD after the end of the 2019 growing season. The results of the survey submissions are summarized in the report.

“Feedback from the surveys provided the department with invaluable feedback as we move into the second year of growing and processing hemp in Michigan,” says Gina Alessandri, MDARD’s Industrial Hemp Program Director. “Their feedback gives us a better understanding of the challenges they faced, so we can build a solid foundation for a long-term successful hemp crop.”

The 2019 pilot program participants planted approximately 3,678 acres of hemp outdoors and an additional 400,977 square feet of hemp indoors across the state. Based on the survey responses received, over 1,000 acres of hemp were planted by growers in multiple counties. The counties with the highest reported hemp acreage planted were Huron, Berrien, Oceana, and Tuscola.

MDARD is continuing the industrial hemp ag pilot program into 2020 while working to develop a permanent program.

“With the inaugural year of growing hemp for the first time in decades under our belt, Michigan is focused on taking the next steps with this emerging crop,” said Gary McDowell, director of the MDARD. “Last year, hemp was grown in 58 of the state’s counties and I look forward to the next phase of this program.”

Senator Dan Lauwers, representing the state’s 21st Senate District, is sponsoring Senate Bills 850, 851, 852, and 853. This legislation is intended to align Michigan’s Industrial Hemp laws with the requirements set in place by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Interim Final Rule. The passage of this legislation will enable Michigan to submit a State Plan for USDA approval for hemp cultivation.

“This legislation keeps Michigan farmers compliant with federal requirements to grow industrial Hemp,” syas Lauwers. “It’s important we keep farmers eligible to grow this new crop for the diversity it offers their operations and the competitiveness of Michigan agriculture.”

The 2018 Farm Bill liberalized provisions for widespread production of hemp, or cannabis sativa L., the variant of cannabis sativa with THC below 0.3 percent. Production was banned in more recent decades as part of the federal proscription of cannabis, but is now returning.

For more information on hemp and the cannabis industry in Michigan, read DBusiness’ cover story from the Nov/Dec 2019 issue here.

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