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U.S. Department of Agriculture rolls out proposed hemp regulations mandated by Farm Bill

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday issued its proposed regulations on hemp production as mandated by the 2018 Farm Bill.

The USDA established the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program through an interim final rule, which outlines provisions for federal agriculture officials to approve plans submitted by states for the domestic production of hemp. Kentucky was one of the first states to submit such a plan.

In the background section of the proposed 161-page rule, the USDA notes, “Hemp production in the U.S. has seen a resurgence in the last five years; however, it remains unclear whether consumer demand will meet the supply. High prices for hemp, driven primarily by demand for use in producing CBD, relative to other crops, have driven increases in planting. Producer interest in hemp production is largely driven by the potential for high returns from sales of hemp flowers to be processed into CBD oil.”

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles says his office is gearing up to analyze the proposal. (Kentucky Today file photo)

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles says his office is gearing up to analyze the proposal.

“Over the next several weeks, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture will conduct a comprehensive review of our existing hemp program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s interim final rule,” he said. “We will have open dialogue with our growers, processors, and industry stakeholders about what this plan means for our state.”

Quarles has noted, issues involving hemp production have changed quite a bit in a short period of time. He told Kentucky Today last month, “If you asked me a year ago what the biggest issue facing would be, I would say it was being classified as a Schedule I narcotic. In 2019, that has transitioned to about a half dozen glitches in the system that we are currently working on.”

Those include such things as improved access to loans for hemp farmers, making sure transportation across state lines is legal, the importation of seed and those government agencies that were unaffected but are now part of the structure may have a learning curve.

Some of those concerns are addressed in the proposed regulations.

The 2018 Farm Bill removed industrial hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act, gave hemp growers increased access to USDA programs, and outlined the minimum requirements a state regulatory framework must contain to earn approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The federal Risk Management Agency announced in August that certain hemp growers may obtain insurance coverage under the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection Program in 2020.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to applaud the proposed rule. “This new policy will help farmers around the country continue pioneering this crop into the 21st century. And I’m proud to say Kentucky is prepared to take the lead. For generations, our growers and producers have made the Bluegrass State an agricultural powerhouse, well-positioned at the forefront of hemp’s resurgence.”

The Louisville Republican noted, “A growing number are looking to this past crop, one grown by Washington, Jefferson and Clay, as they plan for the future.”

Hemp producers, such as Winchester-based GenCanna say they are excited by the news.

“This large step forward bridges the 2014 Farm Bill’s industrial hemp pilot program into the 2018 Farm Bill’s commercialization of hemp production,” said Steve Bevan, President and Executive Chair of GenCanna. “We would expect that GenCanna and Kentucky’s hemp farmers are well-positioned, because the Interim Final Rule is consistent with the Kentucky Department of agriculture’s regulatory framework. KDA leadership under Commissioner Ryan Quarles has clearly positioned Kentucky hemp growers as the epicenter of compliant USA hemp production.”

Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, USDA officials will seek comment for a 60- day period before issuing a final rule.

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