EPA Moves to Approve Pesticides for Hemp Cultivation

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The Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday that it is seeking public comment on the ten applications submitted to expand the use of pesticides for hemp cultivation. The agency, which made the announcement at the University of Kentucky’s Hemp Production Field Day, wants to gather public input on these applications to “ensure transparency and improve EPA’s process for considering pest management tools for the emerging American hemp industry.”

The move follows the December 2018 passage of the Farm Bill, which removed Cannabis sativa L. with less than 0.3 percent from the Controlled Substances Act, legalizing hemp for commercial use and production. 

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, made the announcement before a crowd of about six hundred people. In an accompanying statement and on social media, the state’s Agriculture Commissioner, Ryan Quarles, lauded the move, saying that “with about 1,000 Kentucky growers licensed to grow hemp this year, farmers need every tool in the toolbox to increase yields and protect their crops from harmful pests.” 

Bob Pearce, a hemp researcher at the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment praised the effort, noting that he and his colleagues have   identified “a number of weeds, insects, and plant diseases that pose a potential threat to economically viable hemp production.”

The list of potential products includes: insecticides, miticides, fungicides, nematicides,  and bactericides manufactured by three companies with roots in California. Their most common active ingredients include: azadirachtin, which deters certain insects from feeding and interferes with their life cycle (e.g., molting, mating, and egg laying); Reynoutria sachalinensis, which causes plants to activate an internal defense system that prevents the growth of certain fungi; and Bacillus amyloliquefaciens strain F727, a microorganism that occurs naturally in soil, intended to control fungi and bacteria in outdoor agricultural crops and greenhouses. 

After the public comment period, the EPA plans to decide “about the possible use of the specified products on hemp before the end of 2019 to help growers make informed purchasing choices for the upcoming growing season. Moving forward, EPA will review, approve or deny applications for use on hemp as the agency would for any other use site.”

In an interview with Cannabis Wire, Jonathan Miller, a spokesperson for Hemp Roundtable, indicated that the lobbying group has been in private and public conversations with the EPA. The agency’s move to approve pesticides, therefore, does not come as a surprise. In fact, Miller said that the Hemp Roundtable has sustained a relationship with Tate Bennett, who formerly worked on hemp policy for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and now serves at the EPA’s Office of Public Engagement and Environmental Education. 

“We really appreciate the EPA’s diligence,” said Miller. “They’ve been very responsive.” 

All across the country, he added, hemp farmers are looking for ways to successfully grow their crops. However, he said, “the devil is in the details,” so the Hemp Roundtable now has a team of scientists examining the potential products’ active ingredients to ensure that they are safe for consumers and the environment. 

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