One year after the federal government legalized hemp in the Farm Bill, the industry in Minnesota — which had a five-year head start along with states like Colorado and Kentucky — is finding its footing in an uncertain landscape. 2020 will be an important year for hemp in Minnesota and those in it are steadfastly optimistic.
The smell is pungent and woodsy, the kind that doesn’t recede the longer you’re in its presence. Inside an industrial park in Cannon Falls southeast of the Twin Cities, somewhere around 20 tons of hemp biomass grown less than 10 miles south sits in bags at Minny Grown, part of BZ Sciences. In the lab, which at one time was used for peanut butter processing, hot, deep brown oil spins for a few more hours in the evaporator, the final step in making CBD oil, which employs ethanol for the cannabinoid extractions, a process using the same technology to make lavender oil or hop extract.
Hemp is a strain of a Cannabis plant with legal amounts of THC. The FDA is pressing the brakes on CBD oil saying more testing is needed to know the long term effects. So far just one CBD product used to treat epilepsy has been approved. But many like Steven Brown, CEO of Nothing but Hemp and the founder of the Minnesota Hemp Association, proclaim its medicinal benefits.
“I started seeing this CBD trend and my wife suffered from migraines,” he said. “CBD ended up working for her and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is not snake oil. This is something that could really work for people.'”
After the Farm Bill, hemp acreage in Minnesota increased 10-fold to 8,000 and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture licensed nearly 350 growers — up from 43 the year prior. Now, for the first time, the USDA is involved, disrupting the rhythm Minnesota’s been developing since the first seeds were planted in 2016.
“That’s kind of where we’re stuck at right now,” Anthony Cortilet, supervisor of the noxious weed and hemp programs for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which has a staff of two despite the massive growth, said. “Trying to figure out a way forward so that he don’t hurt our hemp industry here in Minnesota by taking on what we feel are a few more restrictive aspects to the federal rules that we would have to adopt if we were going to have our plan accepted.”
Cortilet says that includes some regulations like reducing the amount of time between testing the crop and harvesting and having DEA agents oversee the destruction.
“That puts a huge strain on law enforcement and the DEA for negligible amounts of THC,” he said.
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This year is about finding an agreement that will keep the industry strong in Minnesota while keeping regulations manageable both for growers and the state.
Between the fertile soil and ideal climate, plus its ability to attract people with nontraditional backgrounds to agriculture, Minny Grown founder and CEO Zach Rohr and Brown foresee a formidable future.
“I definitely expect our state to be a powerhouse in this industry not even within the next five years, but looking longer term — 10, 15, 20 years,” Rohr said. “I just think it’s inevitable that this will be a hotspot to grow hemp across the country.”
“One thing I want to see is farmers coming together and even some manufacturers to come together to build a great textile market here,” Brown said. “Shirts, paper, clothing, toilet paper — all the essentials that we use day-to-day and really be that powerhouse as a state.”