Oklahoman promotes hemp at Bio Conference
WORTHINGTON — Robert Mitchell wants to make Minnesota the hemp capital of the world.
Mitchell, founder of The Hemp Consortium in Tulsa, Okla., spoke Thursday at the Worthington Bio Conference about the benefits of industrial hemp, which has uses in clothing, food, paper, plastics, building materials, biofuel, cooking and more.
Industrial hemp is cannabis that cannot be smoked like marijuana, as it contains less than .3 percent Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The plant was widely used to make rope, clothing and soap before it was banned under the Marijuana Tax of 1937.
Mitchell said Hemp is a “superior product” to trees for paper and cotton for clothes. However, he acknowledged there are some roadblocks in the way. Cannabis is a Schedule 1 drug, regardless of its THC level. The inherent risk of investing in a hemp processing plant scares investors away, which in turn scares farmers away.
“Without the processing facilities, no farm is going to grow something in a large amount,” Mitchell said.
Minnesota approved 38 pilot programs allowing farmers to grow hemp in 2017, resulting in more than 2,000 acres of hemp. But as there is no way to process it in Minnesota, much of the hemp grown was done as an experiment. Some farmers bailed their hemp; others burned it.
There are large processing facilities in Colorado, and Minnesota’s program allows for the sale of hemp. In order to transfer it across state lines, though, producers could be at risk of violating state or federal laws. As of now, there are effectively no hemp manufacturing plants in Minnesota.
Mitchell said he hoped Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell’s bid to legalize industrial hemp was included in the federal farm bill. Once that happens, Mitchell believes it will take off, and Minnesota could be a leader in the industry.
“I want to see Minnesota as the epicenter of the industrial hemp revolution and I want to build processing plants in Minnesota,” Mitchell said.
Also during Thursday’s Bio Conference, Ken Peterson, Department of Labor and Industry commissioner spoke about the employee shortage in southwest Minnesota.
He said southwest Minnesota only has 1.1 people applying for every available job. Manufacturing and agriculture make up a larger percentage of the region's economy than any other part of the state.
Peterson noted most new jobs do not require a college degree, which is why the state is pushing employee training programs. Minnesota’s PIPELINE program primarily attempts to get students into fields of manufacturing, agriculture, health care and information technology.