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Hemp plot draws interest at Farmfest

GILFILLAN ESTATE — Farmers roamed an industrial hemp plot in the warm sunshine at the southwest corner of the Farmfest grounds Tuesday.

With the cultivation of industrial hemp now legalized, a number of newly-created hemp businesses advertised themselves in a nearby tent, touting the industry as having great appeal and profit potential.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture issued an estimated 310 grower licenses as of July 2019 for producers togrow hemp on an estimated 8,000 acres of land.

It all began with the 2014 Farm Bill that allowed states to run pilot programs to study the grow, cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp.

Minnesota legislators followed suit in 2015, passing the Industrial Hemp Development Act that mirrored the 2014 Farm Bill.

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production of hemp nationwide for commercial purposes. It officially removed hemp from the definition of marijuana in the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) now has purview over hemp and recognizes it as an agricultural commodity. The USDA oversees state programs and gives program guidance.

Minnesota will move into a commercial licensing hemp program starting in 2020 but growers will still need a license to legally grow or process hemp through the MDA. Applicants will submit research proposals and field locations, undergo a criminal history background check, and pay program fees.

At the end of the growing season, licenses are required to report agronomic, processing and marketing findings. All fields are sampled within 30 days of harvest by MDA inspectors. Plant samples are tested for total THC concentration to ensure compliance with statutory industrial hemp definition.

Growers and processors are looking to cash in on the lucrative cannabidiol (CBD) market while prices remain high and regulations are few.

Canada has had legal hemp cultivation for more than 20 years and has a robust hemp seed and food processing industry. Minnesota farmers have been able to contract to grow hemp for grain production for two Canadian companies and one in Wisconsin.

Hemp grain, high in protein and omegas, is either pressed for oil, de-hulled, or milled and sold as a food ingredient.

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