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Researchers at the John C. Pair Horticulture Center near Haysville, Kansas, have been working on trials with industrial hemp. They have test plots outdoors as well as in greenhouses. (Journal photo by Kylene Scott.)

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Oct. 29 the establishment of the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program. This program was required by the 2018 farm bill and will create a consistent regulatory framework for hemp production throughout the United States.

“We said we’d get it done in time for producers to make planting decisions for 2020 and we followed through,” Perdue said in a video statement.

Domestic industrial hemp production has been lauded as a pathway to new economic opportunities for farmers, who have been struggling with weather, low traditional commodity prices and trade wars. In 2018, 120,000 acres of hemp were planted in the United States, with about 500,000 acres planted in 2019.

Perdue said this regulatory framework through the Domestic Hemp Production Program will meet congressional intent while “seeking to provide a fair, consistent, and science-based process for states, tribes and individual producers who want to participate in this program.” This federal plan will also cover those hemp producers in states or territories of Indian tribes that do not have their own approved hemp production plan, as long as production of hemp is not expressly prohibited by those states or tribes.

The next step is for an interim final rule that will formalize the program to be published in the Federal Register. This interim rule will allow hemp to be grown under federally approved plans and make hemp producers eligible for a number of agricultural programs, according to the USDA release. Those include insurance coverage through Whole-Farm Revenue Protection.

That interim final rule will cover provisions for the USDA to approve hemp production plans developed by states and Indian tribes, including:

• Requirements for maintaining information on the land where hemp is produced;

• Testing the levels of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC);

• Disposing of plants not meeting the requirements; and

• Licensing requirements.

Along with this interim rule, USDA developed guidelines for sampling and testing procedures, which will standardize sampling agents and hemp testing laboratories to an extent.

“Our program requires all hemp growers to be licensed and includes testing protocols to ensure that hemp grown under this program is hemp and nothing else,” Perdue said.

Once published in the Federal Register, the interim final rule will become effective. But there is also a public comment period that’s been included. The public can see a preview of the rule at USDA’s website at https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/farmbill-hemp. Public comments on the interim rule and the information collection burden can be submitted to USDA.

Perdue said he hopes this new program will pave the way for new products and markets for farmers but encourages all producers to fully educate themselves on the requirements and risks before entering this new frontier.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or jlatzek@hpj.com.

Watch Perdue's video announcement below.

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