FILE - Hemp plant

Fresh agricultural hemp

Blain Becktold, of Down on the Farm LLC and a government and industry liaison for iHemp Michigan, grew 20 acres of cannabidiol (CBD) and 70 acres of hemp grain during Michigan’s first legal hemp harvest.

But he and CBD farmers across Michigan are having trouble finding processors to manufacture a final product because CBD and hemp plants sprouted faster than the supply chain infrastructure and processors in the state, Becktold told The Center Square.

Becktold said CBD is usually grown for its oil or smokable hemp, while the grain can be used in livestock feed and cooking oil as well as some industrial uses.

Theresa Sisung, a field crop specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau, told The Center Square that some farmers thought they had agreements with processors. However, farmers weren’t able to reach the processors post-harvest.

“The biggest challenge is finding processors,” Sisung said, adding that she’s heard of just a handful of true, large-scale processors in the state.

Sisung said farmers may try to dry and store the product in a temperature-controlled environment until they can find a processor.

Processing should become easier as the industry grows, Sisung said, adding that many processors intended to process CBD, but didn’t realize the length of time and investment required to buy, set up, and run the equipment.

Processors exist out of state, Sisung said, but it’s been “challenging” to find transporters due to law enforcement in other states who have seized shipments of legal hemp, misidentifying it as marijuana.

Sisung said a processor might choose not to work with small-scale growers until the processor knows how much hemp will be grown in Michigan.

“There’s a lot of neat opportunities out there, it’s just finding the right technology for a plant to come in and install, or an entrepreneur to come in and invent a product,” Sisung said.

Dave Crabill, communications director for iHemp Michigan, an association of local industrial hemp farmers, told The Center Square that few farmers grew hemp grain compared to CBD flower.

There’s 550 growers tending to 32,000 acres of hemp spread across 900 different locations, concentrated in the Southwest and in Michigan’s Thumb, Crabill said, citing Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development data.

Industrial hemp by law must be less than 0.3 percent THC, the intoxicant in marijuana, for industrial hemp.

The outside fiber can be used in textiles and ropes, while the inner hurd is an insulator that’s combined with lime to make use in hempcrete, or hempline, a superior building material, Crabill said.

Crabill said the CBD grain supply chain would have to scale to about 150 million pounds of hemp fiber to replace one plant’s oil-based product in plastic with the hemp hurd, technology which one iHemp Michigan member holds.

“They could offset 10-30 percent of that oil-based product with the hemp-based product, and that’s a really good ecological story because that offsets some of that carbon footprint,” Crabill said.

Growers tending fiber or grain plant densely, Crabill said, with as many as 20,000-30,000 plants on one acre, compared to about 3,000 CBD plants per acre, which currently holds a higher market value.

Crabill said he hopes to see the fiber market scale to thousands of acres but warned that someone growing marijuana plants on their property could accidentally grow male flowers that could pump pollen into the air and pollinate female plants in about a seven-mile radius, expediting the seed process and reducing the output of cannabinoids.

Crabill pointed anyone looking to learn more about hemp to the Midwest iHemp Expo in Lansing from Jan. 10-11.

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.