USDA Holds 2018 Farm Bill Listening Session

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The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) held a listening session for public input on the implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill in Washington D.C. on Tuesday. Several speakers listed key issues that the USDA should prioritize while drafting regulations for the newly legalized hemp industry.

Bridget Hill-Zayat from Hoban Law Group, a Denver-based company that represents hemp farmers in states like Colorado and Kentucky, asked the USDA to quickly enforce hemp regulations so that states that are currently in session can create their hemp programs this year. She said that delays could leave farmers waiting till 2021 to plant their crop.

“These are small farmers,” Hill-Zayat said. “They can’t get [crop] insurance until all of these rules are promulgated. It’s crucial to their success.”

Courtney Moran, an attorney and president of the Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association, also highlighted insurance concerns and asked if the Risk Management Agency (RMA) of the USDA will be able to provide guidance authorizing crop insurance for hemp in time for this year’s crop season.

“Farmers are currently preparing for planting for the 2019 production season,” she said, “With changing weather patterns and devastating storms such as Hurricane Florence, farmers need this protection as soon as possible.”

Moran requested that the USDA give full organic certification to hemp, allowing farmers to produce and process hemp-derived cannabinoids. She also argued for a standard protocol for testing for delta-9 THC levels and not total THC levels, and noted that Canada successfully tests for the former alone.

“Testing for total THC will favor foreign varieties and imports, having a significant negative financial impact on domestic breeders and the varieties farmers across the U.S. have been growing for the last 4 years,” she said.

As for hemp transportation, Moran said the industry needs USDA to issue clear guidelines for transportation as well as “protectionary measures to prohibit state by state discrimination of inter-state hemp commerce and transportation.”

“The news has been full of stories around the country of hemp crop seizures by law enforcement for the simple transportation of a commodity,” she said, adding, “Similarly, some trucking and shipping companies are not offering hemp farmers or hemp business owners transportation and shipping services.”

(Read Cannabis Wire’s recent Q&A with US Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams, also the chair of the national Department of Justice Marijuana Working Group. Hemp legalization presents “new challenges that law enforcement will have to work on,” Williams told Cannabis Wire.)

Moran also mentioned that hemp farmers and businesses, like those working in the cannabis industry, are frustrated by limited access to banking services. “Farmers and agri-business owners have struggled during the past 4 ½  years just to open bank accounts,” she said. But now that the industry is legal, she suggested USDA provide clear guidelines for hemp farmers to access to banking.

“These are examples of issues that have created and continue to create disruptions for hemp farmers and businesses that otherwise normal agricultural businesses do not face,” said Moran. “The change in federal status of hemp and thoughtful regulation by USDA can alleviate these and other concerns.”

A commenter from ArmTech Insurance, a Texas-based agri-insurance company, asked whose responsibility it will be to verify that producers are licensed and if hemp will be insurable under whole farm insurance.

At present, there is no central body to verify that growers and breeders are licensed, even in states where marijuana farming is legal.

Representatives of the USDA reiterated that the event was for public comments only and that they would not be providing any feedback or response during the session.

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