USDA opens door for more industrial hemp farming

USDA opens door for more industrial hemp farming

WASHINGTON — The federal government is ready to regulate the production of industrial hemp, allowing more farmers in more states to grow the plant that is related to marijuana but has many uses in the marketplace.

An interim final rule establishing the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program, to be published in the Federal Register Oct. 31, includes provisions for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to approve hemp production plans from states and Indian tribes and to establish a federal plan for hemp producers in areas that have allowed hemp production but do not have their own approved hemp production plan.

The state rules must include procedures for tracking where hemp is produced; testing for THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high; disposing of plants that exceed 0.3% THC; licensing growers; and ensuring resources to run hemp programs.

Farmers in states that have not authorized hemp production — including South Dakota — still will not be able to grow the crop, said Greb Ibach, USDA under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs, in a call with media on Tuesday, Oct. 29. But interstate transportation of hemp and hemp products will be allowed.

Along with the rule, USDA also has established guidelines for sampling and testing procedures.

Ibach said that while data is not complete, acres in hemp production appear to be increasing rapidly. He’s heard estimates of 500,000 acres of hemp grown in the U.S. in 2019, up from 120,000 in 2018. Ibach stressed that USDA has recommended that growers establish relationships with reliable processors or end-users. He anticipates that growers’ experiences during this year’s harvest will be influential in determining whether hemp acreage continues to increase “or whether producers take a step back.”

“There’s a lot of interest in hemp — a lot of interest in growing it, certainly a lot of interest in the experience of folks who are growing it, too,” said Bill Northey, USDA under secretary for farm production and conservation.

Northey explained that farmers will have crop protection options, including Risk Management Agency’s Whole-Farm Revenue Protection coverage or Farm Service Agency’s Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, for hemp for the 2020 growing season. He said higher than allowed THC, which can result from things like variety selection and weather, will not be a covered loss under crop insurance programs.

Hemp producers also will be eligible for FSA loans and Natural Resources Conservation Service programs. Farmers will need to report acreage on hemp to FSA, just as they do for other crops, Northey said.

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