A After wind whipped through her Minnesota greenhouse on a hot July weekend, Angela Dawson used music to promote her Wunder Woman strain.
Dawson plays classical music when the plants are young. As they grow, the plants move to more upbeat music. Dawson’s teenage Wunder Woman plants danced to Beyonce’s “Before I Let Go” on this morning.
Dawson smiles and says, “It’s a female plant. She has some peculiarities.
Wunder Woman seeds’ male plants are harvested earlier than the females because they contain lower levels of CBD (the main components of the strain’s genetics) and CBG (the key components of the plant’s genetics). CBD and CBG, two of the more than 100 cannabinoids in hemp, are used to make oil and other food products. This hemp type is grown on a different scale and in a smaller area than hemp grown in industrial settings for industrial fiber and grains.
Dawson’s “motherhouse”, also known as Dawson’s “motherhouse,” is the home of 40 Acre Cooperative. This collective has a mission: to help BIPOC farmers grow hemp. The 40-acre farm is located in Rutledge, Pine County, and serves 34 active members of the co-op.
The co-op is, like the majority of such farms in the state, growing hemp for CBD, a still sometimes-stigmatized component of the cannabis plant. But this year, the state has cracked opened the door for an even more contentious component found in many strains of cannabis: tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the component that causes the intoxicating effect produced by marijuana.
It became legal to sell, consume, make, distribute and sell food or drink that contains up to five milligrams of any type of THC in Minnesota in July. Hemp is a legal term that refers to cannabis with less than 0.3% delta-9 THC.
The new law clarifies what buyers can do with hemp that has been grown for CBD and THC. Dawson claims she has already witnessed an increase in demand.
She says that “now that the law has changed, things are beginning to pick up,” with cautious optimism. “People who have the money to buy a crop are calling me more often,” she says.
Dawson points out that many people feel the law was just right, noting years of uncertainty for the state’s first wave post-prohibition hemp growers. “People didn’t know what to do for the past six months.” 2022 was a volatile year with a cold start. A September 2021 court decision that placed legal restrictions on CBD products was a major problem. This loophole was closed after the law changed. Dawson states that there is still a lack in consensus and understanding regarding hemp due to its association with marijuana. This makes it unclear whether lawmakers will protect farmers in the event of questions.
Rebuilding after prohibition
Minnesota Hemp Program was established in 2015. It was created by the Minnesota Industrial Hemp Development Act. This act was motivated by the desire to help growers find a market for hemp. Hemp farming is a state tradition. Although hemp and marijuana were prohibited in the United States after the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, they were temporarily lifted when the nation was called upon to grow hemp fiber. This fiber can be used for many products, including paper, rope, cloth, and insulation. During this period, 11 hemp processing facilities were built in Minnesota by the federal government.
Despite the end of the war, there was decades of prohibition and stigmatization surrounding the entire cannabis plant. THC wasn’t the only thing that was subject to regulation.
The state is just starting to restore its once-thriving hemp sector, three quarters of a century after it was destroyed. But not without obstacles. The state has just started to bring back its once-thriving hemp industry, but not without obstacles.
Tony Cortilet is the director of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s industrial hemp program. The hemp program was initially not intended to produce CBD or THC but rather for fiber and grain. In 2018, 10% of the state’s 700 acres of hemp were used for CBD production. This was changed by the federal farm bill that took effect in 2018. After decades of regulation that had effectively restricted hemp’s use as a cash crop, the bill classified hemp for commercial purposes.
The hemp farmers are now the center of attention, thanks to the state’s new edible law. The legislative session does not coincide with the growing season, which is a problem for farmers. The state’s hemp program is open for applications from November through April. However, the legislative session doesn’t coincide with the growing season.
Cortilet said, “It’s really difficult for me to predict how it will go,” but he expects to see an increase in licenses in next growing season.
Industrial hemp farming is still being practiced in the state. However, it’s quite different from growing hemp for CBD or THC. In 2018-19, CBD crop prices were high which drove farmers to cannabinoid cultivation. Although the price of CBD has dropped in recent years, farmers still gravitate to cannabinoid agriculture.
Cortilet states that hemp is a good source of grain and fiber. The challenge is to get that infrastructure back. It requires a lot of investment and money.
Last year, there were 348 licensed hemp farmers in the state and 247 licensed processors. This year’s numbers are down from previous years due to a decline in the number of licensed hemp growers and 247 licensed processors.
Cortilet said that the industry is adapting and looking to the future. However, changing laws aren’t the only reason for increased interest in Minnesota’s cannabis market. The state is also known as the Midwestern hub of large-scale processors. This can help farmers in the region.
Hemp Acres of Waconia hopes to be a national leader in hemp production with the opening of a 37,000-square foot processing plant. Prairie PROducers has also increased its fiber production. These facilities are only two of the large-scale processors Cortilet knows about, but he promises more in the near future.
Cortilet believes that up-and-running processing plants offer opportunities for larger-scale conventional and large-scale fiber and grain production. This is a significant development. He says that the law change has increased production capacity, which will boost demand for hemp-derived cannabis products. This bodes well to rebuilding Minnesota’s once strong cannabis industry.
Cortilet says that the goal is to make Minnesota and the Midwest viable hemp processors and growers despite decades of international competition. Prior to 2018, the United States relied heavily on imported industrial hemp. Today, hemp is grown and exported by around 30 countries. China, which accounts for 20% of global industrial hemp production, is the world’s leader.
From cider to marijuana
Hemp Acres has three processing plants, all located in Waconia. They are the largest hemp processors in the state and the Upper Midwest. Its facilities are equipped with specialized equipment and can process all parts of the hemp plant. This makes them a key resource for farmers in the Upper Midwest.
Charles Levine, owner of Hemp Acres, says that he is fascinated by the plant’s versatility and three commodities. The flower that contains essential oils. There’s also the grain that is used to make food. The stalks can also be used in industrial building materials, and many other uses.
Levine says, “I was going start a hard-cider business and planted a lot of apple trees. Then I started the process of turning one our steel sheds into an edible facility.” “Then 2016, came around, and hemp was legalized. I was ready to give up on my apple idea, but knew this was a bigger industry.
Levine also sees the next phase: legalization of recreational cannabis. He said that Hemp Acres would be willing to change its operations if legalization is implemented in the state.
He says, “It would greatly impact our operation.” Since we started using CBD, the price has dropped more or less. There are more people who want THC than CBD. It’s obvious that people want to get high. Just like beer, it is impossible to avoid. If Minnesota adopted recreational cannabis, it would greatly open up the markets in the state. We’re all ready to do that.
Hemp Acres currently produces 15% to 20% CBD extracts. The rest is fiber, grain, and food.
What is it like to open three processing plants with tens or thousands of square feet?
Levine states, “Money and hard work are the best things.” He shared his ideas with a friend during the initial stages of building his business. “I said, “Let’s grow cannabis,” and he was like, “Great, but where are you going to bring it?” And that’s when he said, “OK, well I’ll build a facility.”
Levine encourages people to explore the entire plant, even though a lot of the industry revolves around cannabinoids. “Hex is one of the most nutritious and healthy plants on the planet, but many people have never tried it as a food.
Many unknowns remain about the future state’s hemp industry. Angela Dawson hopes that lawmakers and leaders will not forget the past.
Recent setbacks for hemp processors and farmers who bought CBD from hemp growers were caused by the Minnesota v. Loveless court case. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that, although hemp had been removed from the state’s Schedule I drug list by definition, the definition only included leafy plant material below 0.3% THC. It did not include liquid hemp. The legislature attempted to match the federal farm bill of 2019, but the language contained only dry hemp.
The Loveless ruling made liquid and edible hemp products, which had been legal in Minnesota since 2019, illegal controlled substances. Dawson points out that the Minnesota Supreme Court later appealed the decision before the recent law changes clarified the state’s definition of hemp. However, Dawson noted that major damage was still done.
Farmers harvest according to the season. They plant seeds in May, and harvest around October or November. The Loveless ruling, which was issued just before harvest, meant that clients who purchased her hemp to be processed into CBD products weren’t sure what to do. They were afraid they would inadvertently break the law. They were afraid of inadvertently breaking the law.
Dawson states that the farmer is taking most risks. Dawson says, “If we put in the crop because people want it, then they just modify the rules at the last moment …” Dawson is still concerned about the lack of clarity in recent legislation and requests that legislators educate themselves about the industry’s expansion.
What are the good things about bad law?
Hemp is the ultimate agricultural product and a gateway to future farmers.
It’s difficult to know, according to George Weiblen (professor in the College of Biological Sciences, University of Minnesota). Weiblen, who has been researching hemp for over two decades, warns prospective farmers to do their research before they enter the industry. He believes it is difficult for startups to compete in an environment that oversupplies the country with states such as Washington, California, Oregon, and Oregon. Customers who want to buy local in this current environment will likely pay more than they would for craft beer.
The lack of structure is the root cause of many issues surrounding the 2022 legislation. This was a tactical bomb that was dropped in a state that was falling behind its peers. However, it caused more confusion than it solved. A license is required for processing hemp. However, a retailer does not need one to sell cannabinoid-derived products. Although the Board of Pharmacy has been charged with overseeing this market’s retail side, it says it is not well-equipped. Weiblen agrees with Dawson that the farmer is always at greatest risk.
He says, “This gummy bill [legalizing edibles]- I don’t know how to react to it.” “It’s half-baked.”
The Reclamation Farmers
Dawson, a Black woman, believes hemp is a way to help other farmers of color who have been marginalized by the industry. She also says it offers a chance to build and start small, especially for those farmers who have been denied support through programs like the USDA. This institution has been accused of discrimination. Plaintiffs in the most well-known case, Pigford v. Glickman 1997, have not received compensation. )
Dawson stresses the importance of addressing discrimination in farming, even as hemp is becoming a more viable crop. According to the USDA, today, 49,000 farmers, or 1.4%, identify as Black or mixed-race. This is down from almost 1 million or 14% 100 years ago. Dawson believes that hemp could be a crop that helps underrepresented groups return to traditional farming. This is down from nearly 1 million, or 14% 100 years ago.
Dawson, a fourth generation farmer, says that they are reclamation farmers. His parents were among the landless in the past.
“They weren’t educated. My family was the first to get a degree and go to college. They were placed in sharecropping agreements which stripped them of all their equity. They were placed in sharecropping agreements that stripped all their equity and ownership.
Dawson is now working to bring diversity back into farming. Dawson says that there are more than 200 people on the waiting list to join her co-op. However, she doesn’t believe it has the resources at present to support them.