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Exploring industrial hemp: Koochiching County officials start the process

Mike

Hanson

Koochiching County’s lead economic development agency has explored a variety of ideas toward the end result of adding jobs and stability to the community.

And while few have come to fruition, it’s not been for a lack of effort by Koochiching Economic Development Authority officials, member Mike Hanson said.

When a potential opportunity presents itself, KEDA Director Paul Nevanen said the path is pursued until it hits a crossroad: it either makes sense for the community or factors lead officials to believe it’s not a right fit.

The agency has taken the first steps in exploring whether industrial hemp — production and/or processing — could work here.

Nevanen said a potential investor, who worked and lived here previously for a short time, is looking at investment opportunities in the area and asked if research on industrial hemp had been conducted.

Hemp products range from food, fuel, feed, fiber and saw board as hard as oak, Hanson said.

“I ate some seeds, and they taste like sunflower seeds, kind of,” said Hanson, noting a key to the crop is that industry can benefit from use of the bio-waste material as a fuel.

As part of the exploration process, Nevanen attended in December the 2019 Minnesota Hemp Conference at St. Cloud, where he said he met with growers, policy people, and processors representing a wide variety of people.

“It was really fascinating,” he said, adding all there were sharing their expertise.

Why hemp?

In mid-January, Hanson met to talk about hemp in Williams at the Northern Excellence Seed Company with it’s CEO; Harold Stanislawski, Agricultural Utilization Research Institute project development director; and a representative of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

AURI has assisted in the development of the Minnesota’s hemp industry.

Hemp is not a new crop for Minnesota, but it’s been illegal to plant since the 1950s. Hanson noted that during World War II, hemp cultivation helped produce rope. And it’s been reported that U.S. farmers grew about a 1 million acres of hemp across the Midwest as part of that program. Nevanen said nine processing centers for rope and fabric existed in Minnesota pre-1940s.

After the war ended, industrial hemp production slowed and later stopped because hemp was no longer recognized as distinct from marijuana after the passage of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Flash forward: The 2014 farm bill opened door a bit, allowing states to explore a pilot program, and the growth and market of hemp.

The passage of the 2018 farm bill opened the door a little more, by defining industrial hemp as having less than 0.3 percent of the “high” producing “Delta 9 THC” chemical. That allows growers and processors to become more involved in the hemp industry, finding new uses for it. Hanson said among the new uses are for a protein source for humans and other animals, fiber for packaging and building materials, and CBD oil, used in health and beauty products.

The industry is growing. Nevanen noted in 2016, the state had six licensed growers in 38 total acres. In 2019, those numbers grew to 343 licenses issued and 8,000 acres grown.

Joe Radinovich, the executive director of the Minnesota Hemp Association, called the growth of the hemp industry an explosion, in a MinnPost.com story about Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson’s interest.

Hanson said Peterson is “bullish” on it. “He thinks growers and processors have potential to cash in on lucrative markets,” Hanson said “But the regulations are onerous.”

Peterson’s bill, H.R.5587, would change the way the Food and Drug Administration regulates CBD-products, allowing CBD to be marketed as a dietary supplement, said MinnPost.com. Additionally, it would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study market barriers for hemp, the story said.

The right crop?

Koochiching County isn’t known for its productive farm land, but its cool temperatures and soil conditions could be right for hemp, Hanson said.

“This would fit our climate,” he added.

Hanson said Minnesota farmers consider risk and rewards when selecting crops, and hemp may bring less risk and more rewards than other traditional Minnesota crops.

AURI officials are also bullish on hemp,Hanson said, meaning they believe there is high value in the crop.

Hanson said he hopes by summer, enough would be known about the potential of hemp that a small industry could begin in the county. He points to Canada, where hemp has been grown for years, adding there’s an ag research station south of Emo where it has been grown.

Meanwhile, Hanson cautions that this crop will not get people high. Seeds of plants certified with no THC are required, everyone who grows it is inspected and if the crop exceeds the percentage of THC it is destroyed.

Next steps

“We know there’s a market, but how do we develop that at Koochiching County?” Hanson said. “If it can be, how many acres are people interested in developing? And furthering the uses are just nonstop.”

He pointed to plant in Kentucky, which uses the fiber to create furniture, he said.

“This is a step in a process that may or may not come to fruition,” he continued. “But the potential of what I see at this point, I would seriously look at it if I were in the agriculture business.”

Nevanen agreed. He meets later this month with the potential investor.

“Now, maybe we look at a feasibility study and a business plan around it to see what makes the most sense,” he said.


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Ice interest

Future and current Broncos of all ages strapped on skates Monday night and took to the ice.

The Bronco girls hockey team hosted a skate with the Broncos event to help promote interest in the sport and interact with some of the community’s younger skaters.

Players ran practice drills with participants, giving them a glimpse into what life is like to be on a Bronco varsity team.


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Election 2020
Next stop, precinct caucuses: Party leaders talk dates

While much of the nation's attention these days may be drawn to the presidential election, there's a couple other dates local political parties want people to know about.

This year, precinct caucuses for both parties are on Feb. 25, and the presidential primary election is March 3.

DFL

Joe Boyle, Koochiching County DFL Party chair, said the party caucuses "basically run the party. They run how all our Democratic candidates are selected - except for the president this year, with the March 3 primary election."

DFL caucuses are held at seven sites in Koochiching County, with International Falls precincts meeting at Rainy River Community College commons, with other precincts meeting at Littlefork-Big Falls High School, Big Falls Community Building, Birchdale Community Building, and Northome Municipal Building. Registration at each site begins at 6:30 p.m., with caucuses starting at 7 p.m.

Boyle said participation is key to the political process.

"Anyone who comes is always elected a delegate or alternate to the county convention, also, as a result of that, can participate in the District 3 and District 3A endorsing convention," he said. The county convention is noon April 5 at RRCC commons.

Boyle said caucus attendees will pass resolutions that modify the party platform, he said.

"If you come to the precinct caucuses, you are able to participate and engage in trying to make sure the Democratic Party is the Democratic Party you want, and elect the people who do a good job of representing northern Minnesota people's interests, like Rob Ecklund and Tom Bakk."

Resolutions Boyle expect to be passed include:

  • An approach to climate change, pointing to activities like logging, which will be impacted by growing season and species survival.
  • "I think we will say that when Congress votes to spend funds to defend countries being attacked by Russia, it should be sent in accordance with the law."
  • "I believe we will say that when we have allies, like the Kurds, who have defeated the people of ISIS, they should not be summarily betrayed."

A new act of participation happens March 3, with the presidential primary, Boyle said.

People who are now getting mail ballots or voting early are reminded that they may only vote in one party and must identify on the ballot whether they are voting Democrat or Republican, he said.

Each party may decide what to do with the information about who voted which party, but Boyle said DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin has indicated the party prefers to keep that data private.

Boyle said Democrats feels it's critical to the nation that President Donald Trump is defeated, pointing to cuts in Medicare and Social Security.

"The important thing is we have to be the country that practices the values we always have known and followed," he said. "That's comes down to making sure people vote in the upcoming presidential primary."

GOP

Terry Stone, chair of the Koochiching County Republican Party, said he's not sure what to expect, after problems at caucuses in the last election year elsewhere in the state.

Locally, he said 150 people participated in the last caucuses.

But with the presidential primary, he's not sure caucuses are needed.

However, he said party leaders believe caucuses draw new people to the process and orient people toward the endorsing convention.

"To what extent (caucuses) will be attended, there's no way to judge," he said. "Many say they will be tremendously attended because Trump is so popular. I don't know about that. But the DFL has plenty reason to show up."

The Republican Party's decision in Minnesota to not include any competitors on the ballot, and allow just Trump's name to be listed, removes incentive to show up at the caucus, he said.

Four Republican precincts meet at Thunderbird Lodge, and three in Northome. The largest local caucus meets at the Falls High School gym. All begin at 7 p.m.

Stone said special interests have pushed resolutions through to the county convention, but that's not always of local interest or origin.

A party platform should have the common values of the party. For Republicans: "pro-life, love our guns - can't get enough, low taxes, small and clean government, and strong defense," he said.

However, he said that's not always been the case, and said the party now has two platforms - one which includes the values, and one that does not.

He said the only resolutions that should come from the process should be those that cut from the platform.

Without holding an elected position, he said there is no other way to influence without the process.

"We'll get a lot smarter after the (Feb.) 25th, and after the primary even smarter," he said. "We will be really, really smart, and Trump says 'good looking, too.'"

Stone called Trump entertaining. "He's funny and predictable," he said.

Stone also serves at the first vice president of the party's 8th congressional district, chair of the GOP's 22-county 9th judicial district, and is a member of the state's central committee.