By Mindy Bridges
State policymakers, farmers, manufacturers and federal agencies are abuzz as they consider the possibilities of hemp production.
The annual Food & Farm Breakfast, which brings together legislators, legislative staff and other attendees interested in learning more about agriculture, featured panelists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) and industry members.
The long history of hemp in the U.S. and the variety of potential products—food, fiber, industrial, personal care and fuel – have been stoking this excitement. Since the enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill last December, the federal government has taken a more active role in policy discussions and regulations.
In 2019, state legislatures introduced more than 200 bills related to the cultivation or regulation of hemp, enacting at least 60 of them.
States considered legislation and developed rules in response to the 2018 Farm Bill, including directing state agencies to submit plans to the USDA and conform to the pending federal guidelines. Just days before the NCSL Legislative Summit in early August, Ohio allowed for hemp cultivation with SB 57, signed on July 30, 2019. States also have continued to refine and develop hemp programs as they wait for further federal action.
The breakfast's two panelists shared insights on how hemp production has developed in Tennessee. David Waddell, legal and policy director for the TDA, discussed the legal standing of hemp and how the state is “trying to treat hemp as any other agricultural product.”
Tennessee has seen exponential growth in interest and licensing from about 40 to 50 licensed growers in the first year to now more than 3,400 licensed growers.
Anni Self, plant certification administrator for the TDA, pointed out that “with hemp, there’s not a lot of research on how to grow it here.” Self also described the learning process for both the agency and farmers and that states have been able to learn from each other, too. Many states share Tennessee’s story—increasing interest, expanding hemp acreage and conducting research to support this rapidly developing agricultural crop.
USDA Deputy Administrator for the Specialty Crops Program Sonia Jimenez provided an overview of how federal regulations for hemp are developing and how agencies are working together.
The USDA has been busy engaging internally and externally with the regulatory process, including a three-hour webinar for public comments on March 13 with more than 2,120 connected. The department continues to learn a lot from the states. Jimenez shared that the USDA is “still on track to have regulations this fall to be able to help with the 2020 crop, so everyone legally and with more clarity grow hemp.” (On Aug. 27, the USDA also announced that crop insurance will be available for 2020.)
Courtney Moran, an attorney and chief legislative strategist with Agricultural Hemp Solutions, described the “incredible evolution of policy development” and the industry involvement. She also shared the example of Oregon’s growth from nine hemp farmers in 2015 to almost 1,700 today.
The USDA’s regulatory role is important in treating hemp as an agricultural commodity. Moran shared four concerns for the industry: testing uniformity, transportation, banking and product regulations—and the desire for uniform standards across the board.
Many questions remain regarding the future of hemp. One session attendee asked the panelists about the future approval and use of agricultural chemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides. Just last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced receipt of 10 pesticide applications. These pesticides would have expanded use for hemp production.
The session panelists and attendees seemed to recognize the dynamics of playing catch up with research, regulations and industry practices. The conversation continued that afternoon at another session, “What States Need to Know about the 2018 Farm Bill.”
For more information, see NCSL’s webpage on state hemp legislation.
Mindy Bridges is a senior policy specialist in NCSL’s Environment, Energy and Transportation Program and co-staffs to NCSL’s Agriculture Task Force.