It was standing room only when local growers and investors were invited to a Jan. 2 meeting on hemp opportunities. There were about 60 individuals who crowded into the upstairs gathering area of Big J’s Smokehouse in Rothsay, Minnesota.
Rothsay Mayor Joe Tillman led the discussion. The meeting was organized by the Rothsay Economic Development Authority (EDA).
Several leaders and producers of hemp in the area spoke to the group about what the hemp market and industry looks like.
“The purpose of the meeting is to share information on what has been happening in the hemp market, locally, and what opportunities look like for the Rothsay area and the region,” Tillman said.
In 2019, Rothsay connected with the Southern Valley Economic Development Authority (SVEDA) to consult and start building a plan for bringing more economic growth opportunities to the Rothsay community.
As part of that project, the city of Rothsay planted one acre of hemp in August. They harvested in October with plants that were two feet tall.
“It’s a agriculture opportunity and considering Rothsay is an agriculture community it seems like a good match,” Tillman said. “We wanted to plant a small test plot, show local growers how quickly it can grow and get the conversation going on how the Rothsay area could benefit from hemp and hemp-based businesses.”
Optimum planting time would be mid-June with an earlier harvest date.
“We also had a lot of traffic in that field, people swinging by to look at the plot, and not just locally. We had growers from all around the region stop to look at the plants, ask questions about the planter and planting fabric, etc. It was a good way to generate a lot of interest on the hemp topic,” Tillman said.
One might ask why the Rothsay EDA as well as other regional EDAs are interested in educating the region on hemp.
“Jobs!” Tillman said. “Industry experts are expecting tens of thousands of jobs across multiple sectors. Agriculture, processing and manufacturing industry sectors will see the most opportunities.”
The variety of jobs is what is the most exciting aspect for the mayor. He cited jobs like chemists, engineering, analysts, sales, marketing, compliance, IT, financial, research lab, and retail as roles to expect in the very near future.
The job growth opportunities don’t stop there. When communities start adding jobs related to a new industry, growth in other areas will see positive impacts, supporters say. Restaurants will get more business, schools and daycares start seeing higher enrollments and goods and services-based business will see growth as well.
“For our communities to be successful, our farming communities need to be successful. This is a great opportunity to work together, leverage each other to grow our economy. Let’s work together to keep our money in our communities instead of seeing it leave our communities,” Tillman said.
There is no waste to the hemp plant, meeting guests learned. The flower can be used for cannabidiol (CBD) oil. The leaves and stocks have several uses, including durable building material, paper, an alternative to plastics, clothing, medicine, paint, detergent, varnish, oil, ink, fuel and food for both humans and animals.
Some of these uses are still in the experimental stage and not yet in full production or presently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Because of this, hemp supporters say the Rothsay region can get in on the ground floor regarding the new uses.
Even though the production of hemp is seen as a new and growing product, from 1776 to 1937, hemp was a major American crop. During that time, textiles made from hemp were common.
Worldwide, hemp is widely grown and used in a variety of ways. Canada has been heavily invested in processing the oil and fiber of hemp since the late 1990’s.
Although cannabis is a drug and industrial hemp both derive from the species cannabis sativa and contain the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), they are considered distinct strains with unique phytochemical compositions and uses.
Hemp has lower concentrations of THC and higher concentrations of CBD, which decreases or eliminates its psychoactive effects.
In 2015, Minnesota passed a law allowing cultivation of hemp as part of a regulated pilot program. That year, only seven farmers signed up. But the federal 2018 Farm Bill changed everything. It pulled hemp from the list of dangerous drugs, and in 2019 nearly 600 farmers planted hemp in Minnesota.
The USDA closely monitors the content of THC and CBD in any hemp crop brought to market. Testing for both of these components is advised before harvesting the hemp crop.
“By working together, the producers, processors and drying facilities can leverage each other and all see growth,” Tillman said.
Hemp crops have a good environmental impact. They take less water to grow and can leach some chemicals from the soil, leaving it in better condition.
Travis Raguse, who farms in Wheaton, Minnesota, shared his experience hemp-growing experience.
He planted 140 acres in early July 2019 and harvested in October. In spite of a lot of difficult planting conditions for farmers last summer and a steep learning curve, his hemp crop has been quite successful. He will be planting a lot more in 2020.
Raguse and his brother harvested the crop by hand in 2019 knowing it would be quite labor intensive. They wanted to see how the crop would grow and the market value before investing in specialized machinery.
There are new advances happening rapidly on equipment to plant, harvest and process hemp.
Unlike other crops, hemp can grow in most climates and on most farmland throughout the world with moderate water and fertilizer requirements, no pesticides, and no herbicides.
This area of the Red River Valley is ideal and positively looked upon by hemp industry and seed experts, Raguse said.
Harold Stanslawski of Agricultural Utilization Research Institute discussed the rapid growth of Minnesota’s hemp industry. The state has needs and uses of hemp which will continue in the immediate future.
“One thing that hemp has that makes it stand out is that it is high in Omega,” Stanslawski said. “Omega is something special that hemp brings to the table.”
Veronica Michael and Tom Kading from Prairie Products LLC described their company’s CBD oil production. They use a cold ethanol extraction of the product. They purchase directly from the producer or they split the finished product with the producer.
Kia Adams-Mikesh of Adams Independent Testing encouraged would-be hemp producers to have their crop tested to make sure that they fall into the legal range of THC and CBD content. The amount of the THC and CBD requirements can vary depending on whether the crop is being sold for oil or other uses.
Justin Neppl, SVEDA, spent a few minutes detailing how local businesses are currently looking to buy hemp biomass today to produce their projects. He encouraged anyone interested in producing to contact him for information.
“There is opportunity right now for growers to sell their harvested hemp, to a regional business making products we all use,” Neppl said.
Mayor Tillman closed the evening by thanking the experts for participating.
“It’s very difficult to get subject matter experts that we all heard from tonight, to be in one place able to talk and share their knowledge, for free in a small face to face setting like we are in now,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to learn, this is a great opportunity to have our region work together and it’s a great opportunity to start building something special for our region.”