Pubdate: Sat, 18 Jun 2016
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)
Copyright: 2016 Star Tribune
Author: Jennifer Brooks


First Seeds Are Being Planted Since the 1950s.

For the first time in generations, Minnesota farmers are planting hemp.

"We're the first ones putting seeds in the ground since the 1950s," 
said Ken Anderson, watching as a bottle-blue tractor trundled across 
a field near Hastings on a sunny Friday afternoon. The 8.5-acre tract 
is the first of at least half a dozen hemp fields to be cultivated 
this summer under the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's new 
industrial hemp pilot project.

The seeds should have been in the ground a month ago, but 
bureaucratic delays and shipping companies leery of carrying a cargo 
of cannabis delayed delivery. The seeds, and the entire hemp project, 
had to navigate a maze of federal regulations and red tape that treat 
this state-sanctioned crop like a narcotic.

Hemp was a booming cash crop in Minnesota before the federal 
government banned hemp production in 1957, and the plant still grows 
wild all around the state.

To get back into the hemp business, the Minnesota Department of 
Agriculture had to register as a narcotics importer. Even after the 
Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Department of Justice 
approved the state's pilot program, a series of shipping companies 
balked at delivering Anderson's seed, even though the delivery 
address was that of a state agency.

"This is a nightmare we have to jump through," said Anderson, a 
Minnesota native who has spearheaded hemp startups in other states.

Even though Anderson could get hemp seeds from, say, his operation in 
Kentucky, federal guidelines require states to buy hemp for 
cultivation from other countries - Canada and Ukraine, in Minnesota's case.

Despite having all the proper state and federal permits, and the 
blessing of U.S. and Canadian customs, Anderson said he couldn't coax 
FedEx or UPS to deliver the hemp seeds. In the end, a small Canadian 
shipping company delivered the seed bags to the Minnesota Department 
of Agriculture loading docks on Thursday.

Hemp is a strain of cannabis that's useless if you're looking to get 
high but useful if you're looking to cultivate a plant that can be 
used in everything from food to fibers to construction material. But 
a field of industrial hemp looks just like a field of marijuana, and 
the crop was swept up in the federal drug ban six decades ago.

The compound that gives marijuana its buzz, THC, is virtually absent 
in hemp, even though the two cannabis strains look alike. For someone 
to get high, a cannabis strain would need THC levels of around 6 or 7 
percent. The THC levels in Minnesota's hemp crop will hover around 0.3 percent.

Minnesota legalized medical marijuana last year - without any federal 
paperwork for the Health Department or the state's two cannabis 
companies, since the federal government still holds that cannabis has 
no legal medical use. Now hemp is making its Minnesota comeback.

In 2014, the federal farm bill allowed universities and state 
agriculture departments to cultivate it. Today, 28 states cultivate 
or are studying industrial hemp, according to the National Conference 
of State Legislatures. The Minnesota Legislature set up an industrial 
hemp pilot program last year through the state Department of 
Agriculture, and the agency will monitor the hemp fields and study 
the growth, cultivation and marketing of the crop. Six farmers have 
been approved for the pilot program's first year, and a seventh 
application is pending.

What keeps the farmers and state agriculture officials pushing on 
through the red tape maze is the hope of tapping into the growing 
market for hemp products. A farmer can get $18 for every pound of 
hulled hemp seeds - more than enough to make up for the fact that 
hemp isn't eligible for federal crop subsidies, Anderson said. Hemp 
is a hardy crop, and there's a market for every part of the plant.

"I think there's huge potential out there for our state that we're 
missing out on," said Andrea Vaubel, assistant commissioner with the 
Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Hemp is a $500 million market in 
Canada, she noted. "We'd like to tap into that"

The Agriculture Department is eager to see not only how the hemp crop 
grows, but what farmers do with it once it is harvested. Anderson is 
CEO of Original Green Distribution, which incorporates hemp into 
building materials the company bills as energy efficient and fire and 
mold resistant.

"There's huge obstacles right now," Anderson said of the hemp 
industry. "But huge opportunities."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom