Indiana, Michigan farmers eager to begin growing hemp

Farmers in Indiana and Michigan are preparing to start growing hemp as a legal agricultural commodity following the declassification of industrial hemp as a narcotic with the passage of the federal Farm Bill in 2018.

Between the two Midwestern states, hundreds of permits have been issued to plant thousands of acres of hemp, a cousin of marijuana that contains almost none of the psychoactive component that gets users high, the South Bend Tribune reported.

Milan Kluko, of New Buffalo, Michigan, has been hydroponically cultivating fresh produce for grocery stores and restaurants for years. Kluko said he hopes to grow hemp on a trial basis this year which could provide cloned seedlings and even seeds in the future.

PHM Brands, a Denver-based food manufacturer, is spending $6 million on an old plant that will be converted into a facility to process cannabidiol, or CBD, from hemp plants, said Clarence Hulse, executive director of the Michigan City Economic Development Corp. in northwest Indiana. The facility is expected to generate 32 new jobs with salaries at an average $20 per hour.

Initially, the business will likely need to import the hemp it processes into CBD, but ultimately PHM Brands wants to buy from local farmers who cultivate varieties that have been developed for CBD content. Others will grow hemp developed for its seed, fiber, protein or other uses.

In Indianapolis, Biodynamic Ventures is raising thousands of plants in local greenhouses that will soon be planted on Indiana farms, producing millions of dollars worth of hemp that will be turned into CBD products.

Farmers have come under increasing financial pressure in recent years due to efficiency gains and market attrition triggered by tariffs and other issues.

"We need to protect our farmers and the best way to protect them is to promote and educate them on the possibilities for hemp production," said Justin Swanson, an Indianapolis attorney with the firm Bose McKinney & Evans and co-founder of the Midwest Hemp Council.

Swanson, the Indianapolis attorney, said he's fascinated by hemp and its many uses, as well as the possibility of new hemp-related jobs in more urban areas.

"It's a big opportunity for farmers," said Swanson. "But it's also an opportunity for cities and towns that are dying on the vine, an opportunity to put a growing or a processing facility in a vacant factory building."

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