Is Michigan’s industrial hemp future in the automotive industry?

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Michigan’s hemp industry could get up to $100 million in federal funds to help it compete globally under a proposal pushed by a nationwide growers association.

The state is one of four with emerging hemp industries targeted by the National Hemp Association (NHA) along with Oregon, New York and Florida. The funding would be for developing a “regional super site” in each state to aid in the industry’s growth, said Geoff Whaling, the association’s chair.

Hemp is a cannabis plant with a very low percentage of THC, the psychoactive element of marijuana. Developing the industry could benefit Michigan environmentally and economically, Whaling said. The plant has many uses, but the state’s auto industry is what makes it a target for development.

“The biggest potential use for hemp today, outside of food, is the automotive industry,” Whaling said. “That’s why we’ve called for $100 million of that money to be allocated specifically to Michigan.”

For example, BMW is planning to reduce its carbon footprint by using hemp bioplastics, a renewable resource, in production, Whaling said. The growth of electric vehicles means more opportunities because hemp rope is lightweight and can hold an electric charge like copper.

According to a Thomas Index Report, carmakers have already begun the transition to bioplastics. Factors such as technological advances, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and a greater focus on environmental sustainability are expected to boost automotive demand for bioplastics to 2.6 million tons by 2023.

The NHA proposal comes as Michigan’s growers navigate the state plan for cultivation of hemp that lawmakers approved last year. The plan, implemented Dec.1 after USDA approval, brought Michigan in line with the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized the industry.

The USDA requirements involve state licensing and THC testing procedures to ensure plants don’t exceed the accepted threshold for industrial hemp. If samples test above the 0.36% limit, farmers have to destroy the whole crop.

“Having that final rule at the federal level is a good thing; it leads to consistency among the states,” said Molly Mott, Michigan’s hemp program specialist. “It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about hemp, or pesticides, or any other range of topics regulated at the federal level.”

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