Thom Petersen

Thom Petersen

MINNEAPOLIS — Today’s reality is hemp events draw a crowd wherever the location. A good example is the Nov 6 event, “Building an Industrial Hemp Industry in Minnesota,” hosted by the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI). The forum took place at the Schulze Auditorium on the campus of the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. This 1:30 to 5 p.m. session drew nearly 150 people!

Commented Minnesota Department of Ag Commissioner Thom Petersen, “It’s just amazing to this turnout.  And the location is somewhat unusual too. But I credit AURI with doing an excellent job. It has a most impressive lineup of men and women making presentations.”

So a good lead question for the commissioner: “Is this hemp industry exerting itself too rapidly? Are the ambitions getting ahead of reality?”

“I worry about that somewhat,” admitted Petersen. “It’s just growing by leaps and bounds. We’re experiencing some growing pains. But it’s here to stay. This is not the Jerusalem Artichoke adventure of years back. Yes, some will lose money, but hopefully many will make money as this new industry builds a foundation. For certain this will be a learning process for many!”

Hemp promoters are stepping up big time. The Commissioner mentioned the City of Waseca has self-proclaimed themselves as the “Hemp Capital.” And at this event a few comments about Olivia … already the Corn Capital of Minnesota.  But will the signage be changed to read:  “The Corn and Hemp Capital?”

Obviously this emerging new crop is catching the fever statewide. “We permitted hemp in 80 of our 87 counties for this 2019 season,” Petersen said.

Being a good state promoter himself, Petersen said the neat thing about hemp is that it can grow virtually anywhere in the state. “We’re going to do well growing hemp compared to other states.” He inferred Minnesota soils, Minnesota weather fit this crop, and Minnesota farmers have a knack for gearing up rapidly if the market is ready for this new alternative crop.

Petersen shared this data: This year, 700 Minnesota farmers applied for licenses to grow hemp. In 2018 it was less than 100. “We went from under 1,000 acres in 2018 to about 8,000 acres this year with just at 400 farmers licensed to grow the crop,” said Petersen.

He admitted the Minnesota Department of Agriculture may have to hire a few more people — especially to do the farm-by-farm inspections which are part of the licensing agreement to grow the crop.

Petersen noted the growth of this new industry in Minnesota is attracting a variety of potential shareholders. He refers to processors of the crop for both fiber and medicinal purposes; builders of needed equipment; food industry reps who see marketing opportunities to food and pharmacy handlers, etc.

Soon approaching his first year in the Ag Commissioner’s chair, he admitted it’s an intriguing job. “You don’t know what’s coming up each day. Obviously I wish the economy for farmers was better. We’re looking at the worst net farm income year for farmers in 23 years. But you’ve got to be an optimist. We keep thinking it will get better. Tariffs are hurting us big time right now. Weather was challenging this entire season. Tomorrow I’m up to Moorhead. Beautiful potato crop, but much of it still in the ground. And with these freezing temps, lots of potatoes likely won’t get harvested. I wish I could jump in a truck and help deliver propane right now too. So one thing after another — but Minnesota agriculture is a dynamic industry with tremendous farmers getting the job done. And they will in 2020 also.”