Reintroduction of industrial hemp into US agriculture

A breakfast meeting on May 15, 2018, in St. Joseph County will focus on industrial hemp as a cash crop and how it may fit into future farming operations in Michigan.

Marguerite Bolt of Purdue University will discuss the reintroduction of industrial hemp into U.S. agriculture at May 15 Breakfast Meeting Series. Photo by Marguerite Bolt, Purdue University.

Marguerite Bolt of Purdue University will discuss the reintroduction of industrial hemp into U.S. agriculture at May 15 Breakfast Meeting Series. Photo by Marguerite Bolt, Purdue University.

Industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) was historically an important fiber and oil crop in the U.S., but for over a half-century, it has not been legal to grow in the country due to its perceived link to marijuana and the psychoactive drug tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Industrial hemp is classified as cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC; levels in marijuana range widely from 5-25 percent with average concentrations reportedly being higher now than a few decades ago. The Controlled Substance Act of 1970 declared all cannabis varieties as Schedule 1 controlled substances, which are regulated and monitored by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Even though industrial hemp was legally separated from the definition of marijuana in Michigan during 2015 by Governor Rick Snyder (see the article, “Michigan approves industrial hemp research,” James DeDecker, Michigan State University Extension), research on the crop has failed to get off the ground here.

A recent federal court ruling re-asserted the link between THC and cannabidiol (CBD)—the non-psychoactive chemical in cannabis purported to have medicinal and nutritive qualities—making it a federal violation to sell cannabis containing THC and CBD. Industrial hemp contains CBD and therefore remains subject to federal Schedule 1 regulations. However, legalization of recreational marijuana is likely to be on the November 2018 ballot in Michigan. This ballot initiative would also legalize industrial hemp cultivation in the state, putting Michigan in a similar position to other states like Colorado where state and federal law are at odds.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “…hemp products such as clothing hats, shirts, shoes, cosmetics, lotion, paper, rope, twine, yarn, shampoo, and soap, (containing sterilized cannabis seeds or oils extracted from the seeds), etc. may be imported into the U.S.” The U.S. currently imports hemp in finished products and as ingredients from around the world, mostly from Canada and China, and annual sales are estimated to be $600 million (see “Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity”, Congressional Research Service, 2017). The highest value product from hemp is from the seed/oil with the fiber being of secondary value.

If markets develop to expand the use of hemp products, Michigan farmers may find it to be an economically competitive crop that could play a role in further diversifying crop rotations. However, they will need research-based information on how to grow the crop under our soil and climatic conditions.

The MSU Extension field crops team in Southwest Michigan is hosting a free Breakfast Meeting Series to address farm management issues. The series concludes May 15 with Marguerite Bolt, a master’s student in the Department of Entomology at Purdue University, presenting on the topic, “Reintroduction of Industrial Hemp into U.S. Agriculture.” The meeting will take place from 7 to 8:30 a.m. at the St. Joseph County MSU Extension office612 E. Main St., Centreville, MI 49032.

For the past few years, Purdue University has been undertaking research to provide science-based information to those in the Midwest who are interested in developing a market for industrial hemp. Bolt will talk briefly about the history of hemp production in the U.S., its uses and current markets, what has been learned about the agronomics of the crop, what hurdles exist—regulatory and otherwise—that keep farmers in Michigan from being able to grow it, and what the future may hold for this crop.

Attendees to the breakfasts are asked to call the St. Joseph County Extension office (269-467-5511) or email Eric Anderson (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) so enough food can be prepared.

For those who are not able to attend the meeting in person, a Zoom session (similar to Skype) will be open to the public and accessible from any computer, tablet or smartphone. Remote attendees can click on this link to join: https://msu.zoom.us/j/167787515, or enter bit.ly/msue2018breakfast into a web browser. Each session in the series will also be recorded for viewing later by visiting the Agriculture page of the St. Joseph County Extension website

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