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Published in Food/Agribusiness
Statewide industrial hemp pilot program planned for 2019 planting season COURTESY PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY COLLEGE OF AGRICULTURE

Statewide industrial hemp pilot program planned for 2019 planting season

BY Sunday, April 21, 2019 09:02pm

Michigan is “a natural fit” for industrial hemp production, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday as the state launched an industrial hemp pilot program for the 2019 planting season.

The new program allows for the growth, cultivation and marketing of Michigan grown industrial hemp. Farmers, processors and institutions of higher learning who are interested in Michigan’s newest agricultural crop — industrial hemp — will now have an opportunity to “test the waters,” according to the state.

“Michigan is uniquely positioned to grow, process and manufacture industrial hemp,” Whitmer said, citing the state’s agricultural diversity. “This emerging crop not only cultivates new opportunity for our farming community, but it also creates an avenue for new businesses to crop up across the state.”

Industrial hemp is from the plant species Cannabis sativa and has been used worldwide to produce a variety of industrial and consumer products including food and body products, clothing, auto parts and building materials, according to the Agricultural Marketing Research Center. The plant is visually similar to marijuana but lacks the psychoactive ingredient that makes some cannabis varieties a valued drug.

In 1970, because of its relation to marijuana, hemp was made illegal to grow without a permit from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The 2018 federal Farm Bill changed hemp from a controlled substance to an agricultural commodity, legalizing hemp federally and authorizing the commercial production and processing of the plant in the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is in the process of implementing a national program that will make it easier for farmers to get production licenses, loans to grow hemp, and federal crop insurance. The agency intends to have it in place for the 2020 growing season. In the meantime, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) is utilizing authority in the 2014 Farm Bill for an Industrial Hemp Ag 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,” Gary McDowell, MDARD director, said in a statement. “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 Farm Bill permits MDARD to grow industrial hemp for research purposes as part of an agricultural pilot program. Next week, the organization will begin accepting applications from growers who would like to be authorized to conduct industrial hemp research on behalf of the department.

Interested growers and processors are invited to attend in-person research agreement sessions to be held at the Michigan State University Ag Pavilion.

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