The future of industrial hemp production was on display recently at Hempure Farm in Ubly, located in Michigan’s Thumb region.
Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Director of Industrial Hemp Gina Alessandri spent several hours touring Hempure’s fields and drying facility. She was collecting information on what Hempure’s owners – brothers Brad, Clint and Keith Hagen – believe to be the best and most efficient methods to grow hemp in Michigan.
Hempure Farm – the largest hemp producer in the state – has 340 acres of land where it is growing several industrial hemp strains. The brothers spent months researching the industry and visiting areas of the U.S. where hemp is already produced. In February, they decided to plant acres hemp, which is valued for its cannabidiol, or CBD, oil.
CBD oil is used to control epilepsy, as well as an over-the-counter treatment for anxiety, pain, muscle disorders, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s syndrome and many other conditions. The extract is limited to 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in cannabis that produces a “high.”
Parts of the hemp plant are also used for making fiber, but Hempure Farm is focused on cannabidiol production.
In April, MDARD launched its industrial hemp pilot program to help create a path forward for Michigan’s newest agricultural crop. The pilot program allows for seeds to be planted in 2019 while Michigan awaits the creation of federal rules and regulations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Until a federal regulatory program has been developed, Michigan’s industrial hemp program must continue to function under the auspices of the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill, which allows an institute of higher learning or MDARD to grow industrial hemp for research purposes as part of an agricultural pilot program.
Keith Hagen of East Lansing said he hopes Alessandri understands the need for state action to regulate how CBD hemp is grown to avoid issues that have had negative impact on the industry in other states.
Hagen said Hempure Farm uses only female seeds, which produce the highest quality of hemp for use in CBD extraction. The brothers have taken steps to prevent pollination of the female plants, which would reduce the value and effectiveness of oils extracted from the hemp.
“To us, if this is going to be a CDB growing area, then it all has to be CBD grown here and it has to be done in a specific way,” Hagen explained.
He said a hemp field 7 miles away that contains both genders of the plant could endanger Hempure’s all-female field if pollen from the male plants is carried by prevailing winds into Hempure Farm’s fields.
Hagen said farmers who are not being as diligent as Hempure could have a negative impact on the entire region.
“There are two ways build a house – you can build it out of straw or out of brick. The concept we employed is building our hemp house out of brick,” he said. “With every step of the process, we’ve done what we consider to be the right thing – we planted the right seeds, we are producing hemp organically and we are pulling every weed by hand.”
Alessandri said the state hemp program is still in its pilot stage and operating under emergency rules. One of those rules involves testing of the crop.
“The new rules establish proper sampling and analytical testing methods for measuring the concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol in cannabis sativa L, specifically, industrial hemp, to ensure levels do not exceed 0.3% on a dry weight basis,” she said. “Growers are required to have their crop tested before harvest.”
Hempure Farm also has the area’s only drying facility where its harvest will go through a drying process that creates the best product from which to extract CBD oil. Consultants have been advising other farmers in the area that they can distill their harvested hemp with ethanol or other chemicals.
“Our dryer is the perfect way to capture the organic crop we just produced,” Hagen said, standing near the 32-foot-tall machine. “The other way they are taking a shortcut, and with hemp there are no shortcuts. We avoided all of the pitfalls and are in a real good position.”
The crop should be ready to harvest soon, Hagen said in late August, noting that he and his brothers have developed a more efficient method of harvesting the plants from the field and a patent for the device is pending.
Once harvested, hemp will be processed at the dryer for 40 to 60 days with the machinery in use 24/7, said Brad Hagen.
“This program is new to Michigan, and there is no crystal ball for what the future holds for industrial hemp,” Alessandri said. “However, based upon the response so far, MDARD is excited and hopeful for its long-term success and expansion in the state.”