Michigan launches industrial hemp pilot program


The state of Michigan is not waiting on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to experiment on its newest crop.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development recently announced the launch of the Industrial Hemp Ag Pilot Program, which will allow farmers, processors and institutions of higher education to grow, cultivate and market Michigan-grown industrial hemp for the 2019 planting season.

The program comes on the heels of the passage of the 2018 federal Farm Bill that allows for the commercial production and processing of industrial hemp throughout the country.

“The 2018 Farm Bill signed by the president on Dec. 20, 2018, contains provisions that allow USDA to approve plans submitted by U.S. states, territories and Indian tribes for the commercial production of hemp,” according to a USDA spokesperson. “It would also establish a program for states or tribal governments that do not have a USDA-approved plan. USDA is in the beginning stages of implementation of the provisions related to hemp, and we are not in a position to provide further details at the moment.”

Because the USDA has not completed its implementation of provisions, the state is taking matters into its own hands by launching its pilot program on the principle of the 2014 Farm Bill, which allows for colleges and universities among other higher education institutions or MDARD to grow industrial hemp for research purposes as part of the agricultural pilot program.

“Michigan’s pilot program allows our farmers to explore the production and processing for hemp to determine whether or not this is a financially viable crop for them,” said Gary McDowell, MDARD director. “It also helps pave the way for Michigan growers as we move toward a permanent licensing program next year to identify and expand value-added hemp processing and new market prospects.”

The pilot program requires interested farmers, processors and higher education institutions to apply and obtain a research agreement with MDARD, apply for a grower registration and/or a processor-handler license to participate in the pilot program.

According to Grand View Research, the global industrial hemp market size is expected to reach $10.6 billion by 2025 due to its expected use in various industries.

Brady Madden is the director of e-commerce of Jenison-based MHR Brands, which sells hemp-based products such as skin care, chocolates, gummies, supplements and oils for pets. The business currently is using hemp that is grown in Kentucky and Colorado.

Although it is simply a pilot program for the 2019 growing season (until the USDA rolls out its provisions for the national program in time for the 2020 growing season), Madden said he believes hemp will have a large economic impact in Michigan once the research is done.

“We’re excited for all the research that is going to come from this,” he said. “There is research that seems very promising right now. We’re excited to see double-blind studies. We’re excited to see research that specifically speaks to different ailments with hemp and CBD (cannabidiol) and how they are particularly able to help those ailments. We’re excited to have more standardized information like, ‘If I want to be calm, I should take X number of milligrams of CBD.’ Having that information readily available, I think, is going to be really beneficial for everybody. So, we are just excited to see more research continue to happen and more research continue to come out on this particular crop.”

While it is still early, Madden said his business would possibly like to partner with farmers, so farmers can plant and grow their hemp in Michigan and MHR Brands can utilize the high-quality hemp that is grown by farmers and use it in the products it sells.

“This is an entirely new crop, and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of uses for hemp,” he said. “So, for farmers who can cultivate something that can be used in many different things is a great opportunity for them. Hemp can also have an economic impact on the nutritional side of things, meaning we’ll be able to get people higher quality nutritional products with hemp ingredients in there that can help people with their health, which is going to be a huge market. I think it will impact our manufacturing industry. (They’ll) be able to manufacture other items that can be sold in other industries such as the auto industry and boating industry. The possibilities are endless, and I think it will have a very large impact on Michigan’s economy.”

Once the national program goes into full effect for the 2020 growing season, the 2018 Farm Bill requires states to formulate a plan to monitor and regulate the production of hemp that includes a legal description of the land that the hemp will be grown on, testing procedures for delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration levels of hemp produced, the issuance of licenses to hemp producers and rules surrounding hemp violations, among other things.

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