For the State to be a leader in hemp, we need more farmers

WACONIA – Just off the highway. 5, in this quiet Carver County community is one of the nation’s largest hemp processors, Hemp Acres.

“Our goal over the next five years is to process 30,000 to 50,000 acres of hemp [annually]“said founder Charlie Levine on Monday.

Only problem? It’s a big jump in production that would match or exceed the entire hemp harvest in the United States last year, when farmers harvested just 33,000 acres of hemp, according to the Department of Agriculture. Agriculture.

In Minnesota, hemp quickly went from a niche agricultural crop to a hot topic thanks to a series of updates to state hemp laws that legalized the sale of small amounts of hemp-derived THC in foods. and beverages to persons 21 and over.

Supply is not ready to meet demand. On Monday, Hemp Acres opened its 37,000 square foot processing plant in Waconia – a first step in meeting this anticipated demand.

“We have to make sure we source from inside Minnesota,” Gov. Tim Walz said Monday at the grand opening. “Minnesota is ready to lead on this.”

Hemp Acres can turn hemp into products, but there also needs to be more hemp growers.

The number of Minnesota growers and acres planted has fallen over the past two years from highs set in 2020.

There were 348 licensed growers in 2021 and 2,800 acres planted, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Only 233 producers have been approved this season, the lowest since 2018.

Even with that drop, Minnesota had the third-largest hemp crop in the nation last year.

The 2022 hemp license application period ended on April 30, before the Minnesota Legislature provided legal certainty surrounding CBD sales and before the market for low-dose THC edibles became a surprising reality.

Although CBD and THC are profitable parts of the factory, they represent only a small part of Hemp Acres’ overall business as an ingredient wholesaler.

The company will largely focus on the long list of non-intoxicating uses for the cannabis plant: oils, seeds, fibers and hurd. A number of other products and by-products are sold in bulk to companies in the food, animal feed and clothing industries.

“We specialize in processing all aspects of the hemp plant, from grain to stem to floral botanical material,” Levine said. “This new bill that has been passed just exploits another ingredient in the hemp plant.”

Foods and drinks containing up to 5 milligrams of THC derived from hemp, the main high-producing part of the cannabis plant, became legal on July 1 after the legislature included the measure in a series of law reforms. hemp industry.

The law makes Minnesota an anomaly among states that have fully legalized — and taxed and licensed — recreational marijuana. Walz did not comment directly on the new law on Monday, but said the state has the infrastructure in place to help hemp growers and processors succeed.

Canada, with an older and more developed industrial hemp industry, is Minnesota’s main competitor. Hemp Acres was founded in 2017, before hemp was federally legalized, and was Minnesota’s first licensed processor.

Tony Cortilet, hemp program manager for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said he would like to see the state plant 7,000 to 10,000 acres of hemp in the coming years.

“When you compare that to corn and soy, that doesn’t seem like a lot,” Cortilet said, “but that’s a lot for a crop that’s really trying to get started.”

The Hemp Acres expansion, he said, is “really huge for our state” and can make that acreage goal a reality.

“Farmers like to grow crops, but they also like having a place to sell and make money,” Cortilet said. “And I know on behalf of our hemp growers across the state, they’re really going to see this as a boon to the industry going forward.”