Hemp gets green light from farm bill; offers value
Decades of hemp prohibition came to an end Thursday as President Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill.
Under the legislation, hemp will no longer be under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice but will fall under the oversight of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In 2014, President Obama signed a farm bill that allowed farmers to grow hemp under USDA and state supervision. Since then, 30 U.S. states have followed in allowing hemp cultivation projects.
Forty-one growers in Minnesota are authorized to cultivate hemp on about 1,200 acres under a state pilot program. The bill will now allow prospective growers to cultivate the crop.
For pilot growers, the bill removes legal hurdles they faced in getting the most value out of their crop.
“It will open up commerce,” said Ted Galaty, who has a test acreage of hemp south of Zumbrota.
Cultivators can now get loans for equipment or starter seed and will be able to transport their crop across state lines. Growers will be entitled to insurance coverage in the same way that farmers for other legal agriculture products are under the Federal Crop Insurance Act.
Most Minnesota producers have brought the crop to Canada, where hemp is legal to cultivate and process. Galaty plans to have his crop processed next season at a facility in Wisconsin that is scheduled to come online in 2019.
“This year, I couldn’t drive my crop to North Dakota or to Iowa,” he said. “The minute you drive to Iowa, you’re carrying an illegal product.”
Galaty is also looking at buying equipment to process fiber in the stalks.
Minnesota growers will still have to submit cultivation plans to the USDA through the state Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Cultivators must demonstrate the product they plan to grow contains less than 0.3 percent THC — the psychoactive compound in marijuana that gets users high.
Hemp is a cousin of marijuana, but Galaty said that’s like saying a pug is a cousin to a wolf. Hemp offers far more value to growers.
“This plant is amazing because you can use all parts of it,” Galaty said, adding the legalization was “inevitable” given the plant’s benefits and uses.
The flowers and seeds can be processed into CBD, or cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating compound found in marijuana and hemp. The stalks can be processed for fiber to make paper, cloth, rope, wood-like material or hemp concrete.
Under the farm bill, CBD oil produced by licensed growers in a manner regulated by state and federal guidelines will be legal to sell. Galaty hopes this change makes it possible to sell products from his hemp locally next year.
“Next year, I’ll have somewhere to bring my crop,” he said.
Opening the CBD market will have a big economic impact, he added, noting major companies are already exploring its use in tea, sodas and other drinks. He said bringing it under the auspices of the FDA will help regulate CBD content products and medications that were illegal at the federal level.
This fall, Galaty used his acres of hemp to create an educational maze. When he went to cut stalks for the maze path, he immediately bound up his trimmer with hemp fibers. He has been unable to free the mechanism.
He is currently harvesting the stalks from the crop for the woody fibers.
“It’s like a balsa wood — a little bit harder than a balsa wood,” he said.
Galaty said he plans to have a maze again this year but grow a taller variety. He plans to have the oil processed in Wisconsin and will work to process the fibers himself.