LANSING — Michigan farmers interested in growing industrial hemp on a commercial basis will more than likely have to wait until 2020 before planting or harvesting the much-talked-about commodity.
According to Theresa Sisung, associate field crops and advisory team specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau, planting industrial hemp in Michigan is still “illegal” and will be until at least the fall of 2019.
“You can’t plant anything until a state plan is approved, and the earliest that will happen is sometime in the fall or the winter,” Sisung said. “(The) USDA is currently working on writing the rules for the program. They won't have those rules out until the fall (of 2019), and then once their rules are done, they will start approving state plans.”
During volatile ag times, farmers often look for niche markets in search for added income, and commodities such as industrial hemp help, experts say.
However, as the 2019 planting season nears, Michigan farmers who want to plant the crop this year will have to be patient — for now.
According to Jennifer Holton, communications director for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, “There are a lot of unknowns at this point as the USDA is still developing the federal rules for industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity asset in the 2018 Farm Bill.”
“The state of Michigan is prohibited by federal law from issuing registrations or licenses created by the Act until the state plan is submitted and approved by USDA,” Holton wrote in an email to Michigan Farm News. “The 2018 Farm Bill provides a framework for the states to regulate industrial hemp provided there is a USDA approved ‘state plan’ in place to monitor and regulate the production of the crop.”
The plan, according to Holton, requires the state to have adequate policies and procedures approved by USDA and in place before farmers can begin planting seed.
“There are a number of items at play here including marrying state and federal laws and requirements and balancing that with the enthusiasm for a new agricultural product,” she said. “Additionally, it does take time to develop a new program, but rest assured that this a departmental priority. Director (Gary) McDowell is committed to doing all he can to get a regulatory and licensing program up and running as quickly as possible.
“The department can’t speak to specific timelines at this point.”
Whether or not the industrial hemp market is profitable for farmers “remains to be seen,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue recently told Cheddar, a national news network.
“Many people do think it is (worth it),” Perdue said. “But there have been a lot of crops that come along … and what is the market potential for industrial hemp? Farmers in the United States are so productive, they could crash this market before it got up off the ground.”
According to Sisung, Michigan farmers interested in planting hemp must go through an application process and receive approval to be a grower.
She said that part of the application plan includes a $100 fee for growers and $1,350 fee for processors. MDARD’s application plans are submitted to the USDA and will be approved in 60 days or fewer.
Currently, industrial hemp in the United States is sold as either seed, fiber or CBD oil. According to Sisung, hemp is adaptable to grow in most climates, with fertile, loose soil being the preferred choice.
In addition, she said “plenty of water” is needed during the first six weeks of growing hemp, which will be planted during corn’s season.
“Each (potential use) has different production practices,” Sisung said. “The big thing is if they decide to grow it once it's legal, they need to have everything contracted. They need to have their production contract before they even plant it.”
When growing industrial hemp, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of the crop cannot be more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis. In contrast, marijuana plants have THC levels near 18 percent on average.
According to Sisung, Michigan State University is developing a preliminary bulletin that will discuss growing industrial hemp and provide references for people to consider, which could be ready in April.
Similarly, Gina Alessandri, the director of MDARD’s Pesticide and Plant Pest Management Division, presented in March that the department is “evaluating options for establishing a research program in Michigan in time for the 2019 growing season.”
Currently, MDARD is outlining pilot program options to establish a research program that will allow people to grow hemp on a research-only basis in 2019, but Michigan currently does not have a pilot program in place, Sisung said.
“Kentucky is big on it,” Sisung said of state plans. “They were the first state to submit their state plan, and the USDA had 60 days to approve it. Well, now the USDA is saying, ‘We have 60 days to approve it after we have our plan developed to approve yours.'"
For more information on industrial hemp policies and procedures farmers should have in place before planting, visit MDARD’s website.