— With restrictions on hemp growing loosened in 2018, many farmers have been looking into growing the crop.

In order to encourage the growing American hemp industry, and educate local farmers,
Dun Agro Hemp Group
, a Dutch industrial hemp company, worked with local organizations to hold a field day Thursday in rural Raymond, Minnesota, to show the possibilities of hemp in this area as the company makes plans to open a new processing facility.

The event was hosted by the
Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission
in partnership with the
Minnesota Department of Agriculture
, Dun Agro Hemp Group and the
Agricultural Utilization Research Institute
. Farmers from around the area gathered to learn about the crop and see harvesting in action.

The demonstration was held at
Hultgren Farms
in Raymond. Hultgren Farms worked with Dun Agro to grow a test crop, which was shown as part of the field day. This is not the first time Hultgren Farms has grown hemp, but the previous years did not yield the same results as the crop farmed for this pilot.

Dun Agro Hemp Group has been looking at Kandiyohi County, and the surrounding areas, as a possible location for a hemp processing plant. This would provide local farmers with a place to sell hemp if they decide to grow it.

According to a previous report by the West Central Tribune,
the facility would be 300,000 square feet and have an investment of between $40 million and $50 million. As the process would be largely automated, only a handful of workers would be hired at the facility.

A hemp plant soaks in the morning sunlight on Hultgren Farms on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023.

Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Dun Agro Hemp Group is a Netherlands-based company, which produces and processes hemp. The company has been looking at locations in the United States to expand the hemp industry and introduce the technology needed to do so.

“Hemp was never forbidden in Holland, you could always grow hemp in Holland. You were not allowed to harvest the flowers, you could harvest it for fibers, but not for the flowers,” Dun Agro founder Albert Dun said.

Historically, hemp has been an important crop farmed around the world. The fibers of the plant can be used for a variety of purposes, whether it is housing, clothing or bedding. In the United States, growing hemp had fallen out of popularity due to the
Marihuana Tax Act of 1937
, which imposed steep taxation on hemp and hemp products. In 1970, growing hemp was restricted further as part of the war on drugs.

These restrictions included industrial hemp growth. While some may know hemp due to the plant’s ability to produce THC, the main chemical which causes a high, industrial hemp does not contain significant amounts.

Ross Elenkiwich, of Sparboe Farms of Litchfield, gets a closer look at hemp stalks left in the ground following the harvest of hemp plants at Hultgren Farms on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023.

Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

“The biggest fight we have as an industrial hemp company is to make it separate from the marijuana piece. The plant looks the same, but the components in the plant are completely different,” Dun said, “Marijuana has up to 20% THC levels, ours are below 0.2%. If you smoke our hemp, you get sick, not high.”

Despite the differences between THC-producing hemp and industrial hemp, the growth of both versions of the plant was restricted as part of the war on drugs.

In 2018, the Farm Bill, an omnibus bill, was revised to allow for the growing of hemp as an agricultural product, overseen by the USDA. Since then, farmers have been testing hemp growing around the country, though with nearly 50 years of lost experience growing the crop, the past five years have been more experimental than profitable.

Dun Agro Founder Albert Dun shows the fibers from a hemp plant while giving a presentation at Hultgren Farms on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023, in rural Raymond.

Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

“We grew it just to see how hard it is to grow. It wasn’t really for profit. We grew a small field of it, got it sold for too little money that year,” said Nate Hultgren, whose crop was shown as part of the field day. “We did find some quality things we did wrong, so we decided to try again the next year. Well then we got the quality right but nobody bought it. After that happened, we took a few years off from it. We met up with Dun Agro and they came to the table with a little more guarantee upfront.”

Hemp may present farmers with an opportunity to implement another crop in their rotation. In Minnesota, many farmers grow corn and soybeans on rotation. Crops are rotated to preserve soil health and, in turn, sustain the farm’s lifespan.

Farmers who attended the field day commented on hemp’s potential benefits as a new crop to add to their rotations.

Tour attendees film as a Hemp Bull owned by Dun Agro harvests hemp at Hultgren Farms on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023.

Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

“I think it is an opportunity that has always been addressed for decades to look for that third crop,” said local farmer and member of the Kandiyohi County EDC’s Ag Committee Kim Larson. “Hemp kind of established itself back in that period around World War II and it has come back here in the past decade or so and it has some real opportunities.”

One of the main issues that farmers face with growing hemp is not having the infrastructure in order to sell the crop once it is harvested. Hemp processing facilities are scarce in the United States and selling the crop can be difficult, if not impossible for many farmers.

Hemp rests in a field after being harvested at Hultgren Farms in rural Raymond on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023.

Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

“You must have high-capacity facilities in order to run them. You cannot run them where one day this guy, tomorrow the next guy. You need really technical operational management to do this because it is high levels of computer controls,” Dun said.

The proposed Dun Agro facility would be highly automated, with only a handful of workers there to manage the processing.

As a product, hemp has even more potential uses than it did hundreds of years ago. In the Netherlands, Dun Agro has been using a hemp product, known as “hempcrete,” for construction. This has been in part due to the Netherlands push to build net zero CO2 homes.

Hemp has a negative carbon dioxide output, meaning that construction using hemp is able to offset some of the other things in the home that may create carbon dioxide, according to Dun.

Until the facility is constructed, farmers are left growing hemp on promises. Hultgren will keep the hemp he has grown covered on one acre of his land until Dun Agro is able to take it. Dun Agro has agreed to pay the cost of the lost acre until they are able to move the crop somewhere else.

Niki Vandenburgh, co-CEO of Dun Agro, speaks to attendees during a hemp fiber demonstration field day at Hultgren Farms on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023.

Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Growing hemp does come with difficulties. When grown for fiber instead of seed, the machinery needed to harvest it has to be modified and carefully maintained in order to prevent fires. Hemp can get tangled in the blades of machines and cause fires if not cut properly.

As an investment, an acre of hemp cost Hultgren about the same as soybeans, $600 to $700 an acre. The plant has about a 90-day growth time and after it gets past a fragile sprouting phase, it is relatively low maintenance.

“We planted it and it grew fast enough that it cut down on weed competitions. No herbicide was used. We are not organic, we just didn’t have to use herbicide so that is great,” Hultgren said.

Dun Agro Founder Albert Dun grabs a hemp plant for a closer look while giving a tour at Hultgren Farms on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023.

Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

 Netherlands-based hemp company Dun Agro partnered with Minnesota organizations for a field day demonstration in rural Raymond to showcase the potential for hemp growth in Minnesota.  Read More