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Minnesota hemp industry offers new opportunities in agriculture

Kaitlyn Riley

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Image by NickyPe from Pixabay

Online applications are now open for anyone wishing to grow or process hemp in Minnesota in 2021. 

Interest in Minnesota’s hemp program expanded quickly since it launched five years ago. There were six licensed growers and no licensed processors in 2016. By 2020, there were 461 licensed growers and 77 processors. 

Minnesota Department of Agriculture

“The program really has grown exponentially until this last year,” Whitney Place, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture said. “It kind of tapered off a little bit. We’re still waiting for some processing and market opportunities to come online, and then we think that acreage will definitely increase after that.”

Applications must be submitted by April 30, 2021, and a license is good for the 2021 calendar year. Place said hemp can create new opportunities for agriculture to diversify. 

“We saw the last couple years, especially in the crop market that when things go down, they kind of dragged a whole economy down with them, so this is just another opportunity for people to expand into new markets,” she said. 

Producers have grown hemp in almost every single county in Minnesota. 

“We’re kind of past the experimental part on whether or not we can grow hemp,” Place said. “It’s just whether or not we can fine-tune how to grow it and develop those markets for fiber, grain, food, and for things like CBD oil.”

This will be the first time the program will be operating under a new, federally-approved state plan that governs production and regulation. When the 2018 Federal Farm Bill legalized hemp as an agricultural commodity, it also required states and tribal nations to submit plans to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) if governments wanted to oversee their own commercial program. In July, USDA approved the state of Minnesota’s plan. Some highlights include:

  • Licensed growers must submit a Planting/Harvest Report Form after planting to notify the MDA of an anticipated harvest date.
  • Growers must also report their hemp acreage to their local USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) office.
  • A hemp crop must be tested no more than 15 days before harvest to ensure the plants fall below the 0.3% total tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) level.

Prior to 2021, Minnesota had been operating under a pilot program.

“The one that will most impact growers and people with these licenses are the federal government’s requirement to test your field 15 days before harvest,” Place said. “That’s a tighter window than our current 30 days. We’re really going to have to work on scheduling and looking at planting dates to make sure we can get everybody tested before harvest.”

Place said the state is currently working with the University of Minnesota to learn more about hemp production as well as processing. 

“We are really looking at new processing options, especially in the fiber and green space so that these markets become more available to growers,” she said. “Hopefully that helps us accelerate the industry here in Minnesota.”

Questions about the MDA’s Industrial Hemp Program can be sent to [email protected] or 651-201-6600. The application can be found on the MDA website at www.mda.state.mn.us/industrialhemp. Along with the online form, first-time applicants need to submit fingerprints and pass a criminal background check.

Kaitlyn Riley’s passion for communications started on her family’s dairy farm in Gays Mills, Wis. Wanting to share agriculture’s story, she studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club while volunteering as a news reporter for the college radio station. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. In her professional career, Kaitlyn has worked in radio, print and television news doing everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates, and putting back on her barn boots to chat with farmers in the field. Today, Kaitlyn can be seen covering local stories that matter to you in the La Crosse area.

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