ST. PAUL, MINN. (AP) — Organizers of Minnesota's hemp program say they have been inundated with calls from farmers, municipal leaders and producers looking to invest in the newly legal crop.
Hundreds of Minnesota farmers have expressed interest in growing hemp in the month since Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill , thus removing hemp from the federal controlled substances list. The new legislation, which legalized industrial hemp and removed legal hurdles for growers, comes as farmers face low prices for traditional crops such as corn and soybeans, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.
Farmers are hopeful that hemp could return a high profit per acre, given that it can be processed for a wide variety of uses "from textiles to construction materials, food to medicine," said Margaret Wiatrowski of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
She's been fielding many of the phone calls seeking information on industrial hemp.
"I get calls a lot from county commissioners and local economic development authorities in various rural areas who are really eager to get more information and potentially invest in processing facilities in their area," Wiatrowski said.
But Wiatrowski is cautioning potential growers to find buyers in advance because hemp doesn't have the same ready markets and processing infrastructure as established crops.
Only a handful of companies in Minnesota buy hemp grain right now, she said.
Minnesota started its hemp pilot program in 2016, two years after President Barack Obama signed a farm bill allowing farmers to grow hemp under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state. The project welcomed 41 new hemp growers last year.
The recent farm bill lets states set up a plan to regulate hemp to ensure it all contains less than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana its high.
Minnesota is working to submit a plan to the USDA to regulate hemp in next year's growing season. The plan allows growers to plant this spring, but they must also work with state inspects to sample THC content.