WASECA, Minn. — CBD oil, a hemp-stalk Styrofoam substitute, veterinarian products, hemp-plastic composites, hemp byproduct animal food, hemp oil beauty products, hemp fiber clothing, hemp-oil-infused beverages and foods.
The variety of products coming on the market and being tested by companies has exploded in recent years and the latest farm bill making industrial hemp a legal farm crop has rocketed hemp to the forefront.
About three dozen university researchers, hemp product wholesalers, growers, state agency officials, food company giants, financial institutions, city leaders and others met last week in Waseca to launch an effort to make southern Minnesota the hemp production and processing capital of the world.
“It’s a very immature marketplace. When we get going, we can absolutely crush the competition,” said Matt Little, who with partners started Midwest Hemp Farms in Waseca.
They began growing hemp in a greenhouse and in fields under a state ag department pilot program.
Little and others said the fertile soils that make growing corn so productive here is also perfect for hemp, giving the region a leg up on other states.
“Our focus is creating an ecosystem for farmers, the seed, harvesting, drying,” he said. Little is working with area farmers to grow more hemp on contract.
Jim Zimmerman, with C4Life Inc., a wholesaler for CBD oil and other products, said if the Minnesota hemp industry can get a brand recognition for quality hemp production and products, it can be like Idaho is to potatoes and Washington is to apples. He said people pay more and buy more of those apples and potatoes because of the brand recognition.
Dave Rye, of C4Life, said the Minnetonka-based company, which started just six months ago after more than a year of planning, already has 250 products on the market. They’re selling them in smaller stores now but aim for the likes of Target and other major retailers.
Those in the fledgling industry say they need the state to set up regulations to test and ensure hemp products are as advertised and that shoddy, even dangerous products aren’t on the market.
“We’re maybe the only business that wants more state regulations,” Little said.
And while the farm bill opened the door to hemp production — which was widespread in Minnesota up until the 1940s — federal agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration are just beginning to figure out how to classify hemp — a cousin to the marijuana plant — and its products.
“Right now we treat it like a dietary supplement and don’t make any claims (about its health benefits),” Rye said. CBD oil and related products are championed by many who say they relieve chronic pain, reduce depression and help with a variety of ailments in humans and pets.
Riley Gordon, of the Agricultural Utilization & Research Institute in Waseca, said they have been working on ways to bring added value for farmers through hemp byproducts, including potentially using it in animal feed, cabinet making, straw-board plants and other uses.
Gary Sandholm, Waseca’s economic development coordinator, said the meeting came together as more people talked of capitalizing on the hemp industry.
“There are all these products that could make a dramatic change in southern Minnesota and the Upper Midwest.”