Although recreational cannabis isn’t legal quite yet in Michigan, the plant from which it comes is making major headway. This fall, the state’s first-ever legal crop of hemp is being harvested — and the possibilities are promising for local farmers.
Last year, a statewide bill legalized hemp farming, which prompted the passage of the Michigan Industrial Hemp Research and Development Act. This act established regulations for hemp farming and started a pilot program for those wishing to get in on the growing action. In total, 564 growers obtained licenses for their hemp crops, which would be grown in 835 locations across 32,600 acres of land. Additionally, 423 processors and handlers obtained hemp-related licenses.
After spending the spring and summer planting their hemp, Michigan farmers are now ready to harvest the crops. Although this year has been a disappointing one in terms of local agriculture, hemp growers are hopeful that Michigan’s unique climate will make the venture a successful one. At this point, many farmers are expecting to turn a profit; even if the hemp is sold at its lowest price point, it still might well be a better crop to bet on than corn.
Nationally, the hemp market is heating up. Although this year is an experimental one for Michigan farmers, the growing need for this controversial plant continues to grow throughout the nation. In 2018, more than 78,000 acres of hemp were planted nationwide, with two-thirds of those crops being located in Montana and Colorado. That same year, at least six states passed laws to establish industrial hemp pilot programs or develop hemp-related research. In 2019, total hemp acreage skyrocketed to more than 511,000 acres.
Thanks in part to the increasing popularity of CBD products, the demand for hemp is likely to continue on an upward trajectory. Currently, there are over 850 brands of CBD products available in the U.S. market — and while the FDA has approved only one specific brand of CBD medication to treat severe epileptic disorders, commercially available CBD products are purported to have positive effects on sleep, anxiety and stress, and a number of chronic pain conditions. CBD is even being used in skin creams and pet treats — and the market is expected to reach $22 billion by 2022.
But hemp isn’t merely used in tinctures and gummy vitamins. While the seeds and flowers of the plant are used to make CBD products, the stalks and fibers can actually be used in construction, paper production, clothing, and even plastic composites. Some experts maintain that one of the most interesting (and potentially most profitable) opportunities for hemp farmers in Michigan and elsewhere will be in the automotive industry, as it’s expected that manufacturers may start supplementing plastics — like the types made through the reaction injection molding process — with hemp-made materials. Since hemp is naturally microbial-resistant and water-resistant, it’s also more durable and cost-effective. It’s possible that a greater reliance on hemp-derived materials could allow us to phase out certain plastics completely.
Of course, these newly harvested crops aren’t without their challenges. Growing and harvesting hemp is extremely labor-intensive, with many local farmers struggling to nail down the right growing conditions and soil makeup. It’s not cheap to grow, either. And while the transportation of hemp-based products across state lines is permitted as long as the product’s level of THC (the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant) is below 0.3%, farmers are forced to destroy any of their hemp plants that test above that 0.3% level — meaning that their losses could be more than anticipated, in some cases.
That said, many Michigan residents and business owners are excited about the potential of this plant. Since the state will start accepting business license applications for adult recreational marijuana enterprises starting November 1, it won’t be much longer before the Great Lake State may soon be just as well-known for its pot.