By Bill Hudson

WACONIA, MN (WCCO) — On a family farm where cattle was king, Charlie Levine is banking on a new cash crop — industrial hemp.

“I will be making hemp seed oil and protein powder as well as CBD and processing the fiber that comes from the stalk,” explained Levine, a former electrical engineer.

Levine is installing the customized equipment to become the state’s first processor of hemp grain.

“Ultimately, my goal is to be a hub for farmers in the Midwest area to bring in their harvested grain and I act as the elevator leg, all on site,” added Levine.

The 2018 Farm Bill, recently passed by Congress and awaiting the President’s signature will open new markets for the long-banned crop. For years industrial hemp or ditch weed as it was known, had been placed on the controlled substances list, despite the fact it has no hallucinogenic value.

The plant’s usefulness is being processed into oils and fibers — making textiles, food products and even bird seed.

“It’s got a high oil content of around 30 percent, a high protein content at 25 percent and so it’s very nutritious,” explained the former head of the DNR’s non-game wildlife program, Carrol Henderson.

Industrial hemp seed was among the most popular bird feeds in America, until it was placed off limits.

In the past three years the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has managed a pilot program to allow farmers to plant industrial hemp. 43 Minnesota farmers grew hemp last season — a number that’s sure to explode once future markets are refined.

“These are higher value, not like growing a bushel of corn,” explained Assistant Agriculture Commissioner, Whitney Place.

Place oversees the industrial hemp program for the department and says full legalization will give the state’s farmers choices for another cash crop.It is easily grown and requires little to no pesticides — another benefit to the crop.

“We want to make sure alternatives are available for Minnesota farmers. So by building a hemp industry in Minnesota — that can be a viable alternative for them,” added Place.

Charlie Levine is already on board. Convinced in the value of a crop with such potential, but mischaracterized far too long.

Bill Hudson

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