By Theresa Sisung

Last month farmers interested in growing industrial hemp this year received the news they had been waiting for when the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) announced the launch of the state’s Industrial Hemp Ag Pilot Program. The program will allow for the growth, cultivation and marketing of Michigan-grown industrial hemp in 2019.

Before we get too far into the weeds, let’s clarify that industrial hemp and marijuana are NOT the same thing. They’re both members of the cannabis family, but industrial hemp contains less than 0.3% THC—tetrahydrocannabinol— the psychoactive compound that produces a ‘high’ only at much higher concentrations, such as are found in marijuana.

Industrial hemp is grown for fiber, seed and oil which can then be turned into many other products. In particular, there is a lot of interest in growing hemp for cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound currently being marketed as a supplement for humans and animals.

The 2018 Farm Bill authorized the commercial production and processing of industrial hemp, but each state must have an approved plan in place before commercial production is allowed. USDA is in the process of implementing a national program scheduled for a fall release, after which Michigan can submit its state plan for approval.

Until USDA’s program is in place, Michigan is using authority in the 2014 Farm Bill for an Industrial Hemp Ag Pilot Program, which permits an institute of higher learning or MDARD to grow industrial hemp for research purposes as part of an agricultural pilot program.

Really what all this means is that if you want to grow hemp in 2019 you must work in partnership with MDARD on a research program, but in 2020 full-scale commercial production should be an option.

To grow hemp, you must submit to MDARD an application and a $100 registration fee. If you wish to process, handle, broker, or market industrial hemp in Michigan you must submit an application and a $1,350 application fee.

Prior to harvest, growers must submit a sample of the crop to a testing facility to measure the THC concentration. If it’s above 0.3% the crop cannot be harvested and must be destroyed.

Questions:

  1. What sort of resources or information should Farm Bureau provide to help better inform our members about industrial hemp?
  2. What potential roadblocks do you see as the industrial hemp industry expands from a research program to full-scale commercial production?
  3. Do you know farmers in your area who are planning to grow and/or process industrial hemp under the research pilot or once commercial production becomes legal?

Theresa Sisung grew up on her family’s cash crop and livestock farm in Clinton County, and earned a degree in ag communications from Michigan State University. At MFB she serves as the associate field crops and advisory team specialist and the resident “expert” on industrial hemp. She focuses on developing relationships with the corn, soybean, wheat, sugar beet and dry bean industries.