USDA unveils new federal hemp regulations
Almost a year after lifting a ban on commercial hemp production, the federal government unveiled rules that will regulate the crop.
“We said we would get it done in time for producers to make planning decisions for 2020, and we followed through,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement.
Pennsylvania got an early start, sending its own hemp production regulations to the USDA in January. Farmers here started growing hemp this year.
Now that the USDA established its rules for the crop, the agency will review states’ plans and respond within 60 days — either approving them or requesting changes, according to federal officials.
It’s too early to tell whether the new federal rules will require Pennsylvania to make any changes to its hemp program, said Shannon Powers, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture.
The federal regulations total more than 150 pages. The state began reviewing them Tuesday, Powers said.
USDA officials said they think 2020 will be the bellwether to see if commercial hemp production is viable.
“I think the experience that producers have this fall with harvesting their crop, handling their crops, finding buyers for their crops, are going to be very instructive as to whether we see continued growth in the hemp industry, or whether producers take a step back,” said Greg Ibach, USDA under secretary for marketing, regulatory marketing and regulatory programs.
The new regulations also open the door for federal loans and insurance for hemp, as farmers can get for other agricultural products.
The USDA regulations will expire in two years, to be replaced with a final version based on feedback from farmers and other stakeholders, said Bill Northey, USDA under secretary for farm production and conservation.
“We will use the 2020 growing season as a chance to test-drive the interim rule,” he said.
The rules require keeping track of farms where hemp is produced and regular testing to make sure plants contains no more than 0.3% of THC, the psychoactive component that is more prevalent in marijuana.
Pennsylvania already abides by these standards.
Pennsylvania had more than 300 registered hemp farmers this year.
The state this month announced $460,000 in grants that will be given to farmers of hemp and other crops “designated as high priority because of their growth potential,” according to the state Department of Agriculture.
The other crops include hops, honey and hardwoods along with barley, rye and wheat to be used for distilling, brewing and malting.
The federal government banned hemp in the 1930s because of its association with marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are the same plant — the only difference is the amount of THC. That ban was lifted with the 2018 federal farm bill.
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, [email protected] or via Twitter .