Some farmers are experiencing a modicum of relief after the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced the temporary repeal of two unpopular interim regulations regarding the cultivation of hemp.
Hemp was federally legalized with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, which granted farmers the ability to apply for permission to grow the crop as long as they remain compliant with certain requirements that were to be formally determined by the USDA at a later date.
When the USDA finally released their provisional guidelines, farmers were disappointed at stipulations which required them to have their hemp crops tested 15 days prior to harvest by a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) certified laboratory, in order to determine that the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content is not above 0.3%.
Many farmers took issue with this particular regulation because of the limited number of DEA labs available — a big concern being the large backlog of testing that would inevitably build up at these facilities, and the uncertainty of whether farmers could still harvest their crops if the testing time exceeded 15 days.
Furthermore, the USDA interim guidelines originally ordered that any crops which tested at more than 0.3% THC would have to be destroyed. Technically, the hemp would be legally considered marijuana at that point, which is still federally prohibited.
This means that if a farmer’s hemp crops test at more than 0.3% THC, they would end up losing everything that they had invested into that crop, because they would be disallowed from using it for things like compost, textiles, or biofuel.
THC content in hemp can be particularly difficult for farmers to manage, as it involves many factors that they have no control over, such as weather or soil conditions. Hemp seeds obtained from the same plant can produce widely varying amounts of THC, depending on where and how they are grown. In places like Arizona, this is proving to be quite a problem as it was recently determined that up to 40% of the state’s hemp crops would have to be destroyed due to being “hot” crops that exceed the 0.3% THC threshold.
THC is the only compound in hemp that is capable of producing psychotropic symptoms when ingested, which is why it is the most abundant compound in commercial marijuana. However, these effects only become apparent with hemp that contains at least 1% THC, which indicates that the 0.3% limit is an arbitrary restriction.
Many farmers and others in the hemp industry balked at what they considered unreasonable conditions when the USDA first announced their interim rules for hemp cultivation, citing concerns that it would place undue financial strain on farmers who are struggling to keep their crops complaint.
Fortunately, the USDA has agreed to ease up on their hemp regulations. First, they announced a temporary retraction of the condition that required farmers to use official DEA labs to test their hemp. In addition, “hot” hemp crops would no longer have to be destroyed.
Under Secretary for USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs, Greg Ibach, commented on the repeal of these regulations, stating, “Because currently there isn’t sufficient capacity in the United States for the testing and disposal of non-compliant hemp plants, USDA has worked hard to enable flexibility in the requirements in the Interim Final Rule for those issues.”
The USDA had previously provided an online forum for farmers to leave comments regarding the interim rules, and had received over 4,600 responses. They have announced that they will extend an additional comment period at the end of the current planting season.
This temporary reprieve of the two most contentious restrictions will continue until October 31, 2021 — unless a final rule is released before that time. The USDA website has also provided a list for farmers which gives different options on how they are able to legally dispose of “hot” hemp crops.
It is hopeful that the USDA will continue taking the farmer’s concerns and experiences into consideration as they work on creating permanent guidelines. Hemp has the potential to alleviate a lot of problems in modern society, as it can be used to create degradable plastic, cleaner fuel, and sustainable housing; aditionally, growing hemp crops has even been shown to benefit bees.
Hemp farmers will have to keep a watchful eye on the USDA to ensure that the final cultivation guidelines are sensible, fair, and not too burdensome.