LANSING — Topical cannabidiol creams are competing for shelf space at Kroger and Whole Foods. Wellness sprays are sold over the counter at Walgreens and other national drugstores. And Family Video even sells CBD alongside DVDs.
CBD has gone mainstream, and Michigan farmers are hoping to cash in on the craze this fall as they harvest the state’s first legal hemp crops.
While farmers say there were growth problems during Michigan’s inaugural crop, David Conner of Paw Paw Hemp expects to profit from the 26 acres he and a business partner are growing on a blueberry farm in southwest Michigan. .
“When any type of crop is in the middle of the harvest, that’s probably when you’re going to get the lowest price,” Conner said.
“But even at the lower price, it’s still better for us to be in hemp than corn this year.”
While there are plenty of warning signs, hemp could prove to be a bright spot in an otherwise dismal year for Michigan farmers, who have struggled with heavy rains and falling prices that prompted authorities to feds declared disasters in five counties on the Indiana border.
Conner is one of 564 hemp farmers licensed to grow hemp this season under a Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development pilot program. The state also licensed 423 processors and handlers to help bring the inaugural crop to market.
Hemp is a variety of the sativa cannabis plant, but contains only small amounts of the psychoactive element of marijuana. It had been shunned for decades because of its association with pot, but the federal government is in the process of establishing rules for commercial processing and production allowed by a 2018 law.
Michigan is “uniquely positioned” to grow, process and manufacture industrial hemp, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in April, as the state launched its pilot program while awaiting longer-term federal rules.
“We’re one of the most diverse agricultural states in the nation, growing 300 different commodities on a commercial basis, which makes it a natural fit,” Whitmer said.
States are rapidly changing industrial hemp laws to reflect the changing landscape. At least six states passed laws in 2018 to create pilot or industrial hemp research programs, while farmers in at least 34 states harvested about 500,000 acres this fall.
It hasn’t always gone well. Across the country, some experts say a “massive oversupply” of farmers planting what some have described as a miracle crop will drive prices down.
Michigan’s first growing season was also problematic for some farmers who didn’t plant their entire crop or lost significant acreage because they were experimenting with soil quality, weed maintenance, feeding schedules and harvesting techniques to grow the type of CBD flower that processors and manufacturers will make. wish for retail products.
“It’s all a learning process,” said hemp processor Casey Yosin, founder and CEO of Total Health Co. of Auburn Hills in Oakland County. “Everyone is learning on the fly.”
Conner and his business partner had planned to plant 40 acres of hemp on their Paw Paw farm, but ended up planting only 26 acres this season because of what he called unforeseen “genetic challenges” with the crop.
Claims that hemp would “grow like a weed” turned out to be exaggerated, he said, describing hiccups with soil conservation and weed management. And the harvest, an ongoing process expected to take 26 days, proved “extremely labor intensive.”
Conner said he and his partner are using a daily harvest crew of 22 workers to prepare the product for shipment and at least 10 more working in the field.
The average grower will spend $5,000 to $10,000 per acre on their fields this year, experts said Monday at a panel discussion hosted by Michigan’s industrial hemp industry.
But farmers anticipate returns of $10,000 to $12,000 per acre for flowers from plants used to create CBD oils marketed as wellness products.
“It’s all about the supply chain,” said Yosin, who told reporters there are plans to build a major hemp processing facility at an undisclosed location in mid-Michigan.
“If farmers can come in with a good processing group that actually has expenses for the product, then you can command a pretty good premium.”
CBD is typically sold as a health and wellness product. But like its cousin, marijuana, previous bans have hampered academic research into its effectiveness or risks. The US Food and Drug Administration has approved only one prescription CBD drug, a product used to treat rare and severe forms of epilepsy, warning of “unanswered questions about the science, safety and quality of products containing CBD”.
But Michael Thue, a certified medical assistant who founded Great Lakes Hemp Supplements and the Center for Compassion in Traverse City, said he has seen CBD prove effective in treating migraines, arthritis and other ailments in residents of all ages.
“CBD has grown rapidly in awareness,” Thue said. “I’ve been researching CBD for the past nine years here in Michigan under the medical marijuana law. When I was speaking eight years ago, no one knew what CBD was.”
In an online article, Harvard University School of Medicine struck a middle ground, writing that some providers have come under scrutiny for “wild and indefensible claims that CBD is a cure for cancer, which it is not. We need more research, but CBD may be an option for managing anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain.”
Michigan’s fledgling hemp industry remains a small fraction of the state’s agricultural portfolio. By comparison, Michigan farmers harvested 1.9 million acres of corn in 2018, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The state began licensing medical marijuana growers in July 2018, but the limits for that crop are based on total plants, not acres. Currently, there are 127 medical marijuana growers licensed to grow up to a total of 175,500 plants, according to state data. Michigan is scheduled to begin licensing recreational marijuana businesses in November.
While most early-stage farmers in Michigan are expected to sell flowers for CBD products, advocates say the hemp plant has multiple uses and could provide a secondary source of income in the years to come.
The seeds could be used for food, feed, shampoos or paints. The stalks can be used to make paper materials, clothing and other textiles or building materials.
“The whole plant has a revenue opportunity,” said Gary Schuler, founder and CEO of Grand Rapids-based GTF LLC. “This could change the lives of these farmers. And I’m talking about even the roots. There’s value in that root material.”