USDA Releases First Round of Hemp Rules Updates, Post Public Comments

The first round of USDA rules on Hemp post after Public commentOn the official USDA site, it states,“The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill) authorized the production of hemp and removed hemp and hemp seeds from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) schedule of Controlled Substances. It also directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue regulations and guidance to implement a program to create a consistent regulatory framework around production of hemp throughout the United States.”

Quick links in this post:

  • Any changes to the 0.3% THC limit on hemp?
  • Regulations for testing hemp and authorized labs.
  • Protections through USDA farm programs.
  • Farm loans for farmers growing hemp.

This is a whole new industry, even though Hemp agriculture was a staple of colonial America, where hemp farming was mandated and even a method of paying taxes.

But, in this new century, there are many changes in technology, agri-science, awareness of the greater diversity of the plant, and a greater need for the growth of the infrastructure to utilize the plant in all of its forms and in every different growing climate. General rules, still in development, don’t work when climate and micro-climates can change the nature and proper use of the plant.

The 0.3% THC Limit for Hemp Remains

Those long-anticipated rules that were finally posted, in October of 2018, required a period of public comment. After the January 29, deadline passed, the USDA stated they received 4,600 comments from across the country, agreeing with some part and adamantly against others, including the adherence to the 0.3% THC limit on Hemp biomass and CBD-from-hemp products.

During the call to reporters, USDA Farm Production and Conservation Undersecretary Bill Northey and Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator Bruce Summers said USDA tried to write the interim rule now in effect to help farmers as much as possible, but that cannot change some of the regulations to which farmers have objected because they are in statute.

"The USDA does not have the legal authority to raise the allowed tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9THC), above 0.3% in hemp because that number is written into law." Bruce Summers, USDA Learn It. Tweet It.

In addressing the 0.3% cap, which garnered the most amount of concern in the public comments, Summers stressed several times that USDA does not have the legal authority to raise the allowed tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9THC), above 0.3% in hemp because that number is written into law. Summers stated that farm groups have proposed raising that level, but they would have to convince Congress to change it.

The 0.3% marker is based on a low arbitrary number for the European taxonomy of hemp, from a study done in 1947 In practice, especially in warmer climates, it is difficult to maintain that level for many strains, especially ones that were from seed originally growth in higher altitudes and latitudes.

The current law says hemp with a THC level higher than 0.3% must be “disposed of,” but it does not say it has to be destroyed. Summers said he is working on guidance on what “disposed of” means.

Farmers are hoping that it could be sold to legal marijuana markets, but the statute also notes that producers who grow hemp with 0.5% THC are considered “negligent” and risk becoming ineligible to grow the crop. That small margin of error was meant to prevent hemp farmers from purposely growing the federally illegal cannabis strains.

LAB Testing RULES to Receive Further Guidance

Among other issues brought up but not addressed in the new rules, farmers complained about requirements stating hemp has to be tested for THC within 15 days of harvest. They also questioned whether they could find Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)-approved labs to do the job.

Florida has two labs that have received DEA approval, including ACS labs.

However, Summers said he has some flexibility on sampling and testing requirements and claims he will be issuing guidance on those subjects.

Finally, Protections Through USDA Farm Programs

Along with the new interim rules and the continuing process of approving state-based rules for those states that developed them (Florida is still not approved as of this date), the USDA noted, “The establishment of hemp as a regulated commodity also paves the way for U.S. hemp farmers to participate in other USDA farm programs.

These programs include:

  • Whole-Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP)
  • Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP)
  • NRCS-administered conservation programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, Regional Conservation Partnership Program, and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program
  • Farm loans, including operating, ownership, beginning farmer, and farm storage facility
#HempFarming just went mainstream! USDA announced #hemp farmer programs and protections  including Farm Loans, Revenue Protection and Disaster Assistance.​ @ACSLabCannabis Learn It. Tweet It.

Stay Tuned, There’s a Lot More to Come

In this series of blogs on the topic, we will deconstruct these programs, along with the ups and downs, ins and outs of the USDA rules and how they will affect Florida and the rest of the nation as the program deals with growing pains and regulative learning curves.

We will be posting articles on the various programs and aspects of the new rules, including insurance, loans, conservation and reporting to the USDA.

We are travelers in a brave new world, even though we are working with a product that is older than mankind.

And yet, we still have much to learn from each other. With the CBD market dropping in price due to oversupply and the lack of infrastructure for the hurd (wood) and bast (fiber) of the plant, governmental regulations, as well as anxious farmers may help or hinder us as we move forward. But together we can make this work.

ACS Laboratory would like to thank Gary Stein, Executive Director of Clarity PAC for quickly informing and authoring this synopsis of these updates released the week of February 10, 2020.

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