The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research held a hearing Thursday to get a closer look at USDA’s Hemp Production Program in preparation for the 2023 Farm Bill.
Subcommittee chair Stacey Plaskett explained some of the history of hemp regulations in her opening statement.
“Until recently, the hemp industry was outlawed due to restrictions put in place by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1938, and hemp was treated no differently than marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. In 2014, the farm bill removed long-standing federal restrictions on the cultivation and production of hemp, allowing state departments of agriculture and institutions of higher learning to produce this crop as part of a pilot program for research purposes,” she said. “In the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress authorized commercial production of hemp and directed USDA to establish the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program, giving USDA the responsibility of evaluating and approving plans submitted by states, territories, or tribal authorities who wish to regulate hemp production. In January of 2021, USDA issued its final ruling on regulating the production of hemp in the United States.”
Colorado Department of Agriculture Commissioner, Kate Greenberg, was one of the witnesses. She explained some of the difficulties growers in her state have faced.
“The 2018 Farm Bill placed many significant burdens on hemp producers, including much higher sampling and testing fees, completing required background checks, and FSA acreage reporting, which is duplicative in nature because it is already reported to the USDA through state reporting,” she said. “Currently in Colorado, as in many other states, 100% of regulatory program costs are paid by producers through registration fees. Colorado is facing similar challenges as the states that have turned their programs over to the USDA in terms of making our program financially sustainable. This has included the challenges of fixed minimum regulatory costs with highly fluctuating registration numbers.”
She had five recommendations for the committee.
The following was provided in her written testimony.
- Remove DEA requirements for testing labs.
The USDA’s Final Rule requirement for hemp testing laboratories to be DEA registered should be removed as it is time-consuming, inefficient, and unnecessary. The requirement is too cumbersome and takes too long to implement. As soon as the IFR was promulgated in October 2019, CDA initiated the process of obtaining DEA certification for its state-of-the-art laboratory. Even though the CDA laboratory had been performing testing and analysis of cannabis samples in support of Colorado’s cannabis-related regulatory programs for many years, up until this hearing, CDA still awaits DEA approval. Based on our experience in seeking approval at the state laboratory, we worry it may take years for other laboratories to obtain DEA certification, which will create a testing capacity problem in Colorado.
- Allow the use of certified seed as an alternative to the strict testing requirement.
Plant varieties are developed by plant breeders and are protected by the Federal and State Plant Variety Protection Act and Regulations. These varieties are known to have Distinct, Uniform, and Stable characters and are multiplied and marketed as certified seeds under the protection of the Federal and State Seed Act. As hemp varieties are developed with acceptable THC levels, the same system that has served other plants should serve to protect and certify the identity of hemp. A grower who uses certified hemp varieties should not be regularly tested for THC since THC compliance is certified with a seed certification system. This will significantly reduce the cost of operations and encourage farmers to adopt stable genetics that produce consistency in the industry, helping several facets of the industry simultaneously – both farmers and those engaged in seed and genetic development.
- Remove background check requirement.
The 2018 Farm Bill has paved the way for hemp to be grown as an agricultural commodity. Farmers have the opportunity to benefit from its multiple potential uses and enable diversity in their choice of crop. Over the last seven months of implementing the USDA program, we received consistent pushback from farmers and growers over the background requirement. The requirement added cost, required time until we receive results, and added an extra process of notifications putting strain on already small program resources. Additionally, the background provision prevents those that have completed their rehabilitation from participating in growing a legal agricultural commodity.
- Establish a federal grant program to support the state’s hemp program.
As a result of requirements in the 2018 Farm Bill and the USDA’s Final Rule, the hemp industry is highly regulated with intensive data collection, background checks, land registration, sampling, testing, inspection, enforcement, and reporting requirements. A majority of state programs, including CDA’s program, are cash funded, meaning we depend on the revenue collected from registration fees to provide the services. Hemp registration is at its lowest level since the program’s creation, generating significantly less revenue and making our ability to continue to run the program into the future more tenuous. As of this hearing, several states have closed their program. With the current registration trends, more states are likely to close their programs due to loss of revenue, putting more pressure on USDA to take over the regulation in those states and threatening the sustainability of the program. The USDA should be charged with establishing a program to financially support States that have implemented hemp regulatory programs much the same way the USDA does for other federal requirements implemented by the States. States like Colorado are implementing federal requirements and taking this regulatory burden off of the USDA without financial compensation.
- Accelerate the regulatory process to allow the use of Hemp as feed.
Scientific research has shown hemp to have promising nutritional benefits to livestock and pet animals. Studies are still ongoing to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of hemp as a feed ingredient. Colorado stakeholders have worked for years to demonstrate safety and effectiveness through collaborative research and numerous discussions on how to develop a national path forward to safe and legal approval. Providing federal support for research is necessary to ensure that the industry can demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of hemp as quickly as possible through the FDA’s rigorous review process. FDA approval of hemp as feed will immediately open significant new market opportunities for hemp producers as well as provide a new, sustainable source of animal feed to large feed and pet food manufacturers.
National Correspondent / AgNet Media, Inc.
Sabrina Halvorson is an award-winning journalist, broadcaster, and public speaker who specializes in agriculture. She primarily reports on legislative issues and hosts The AgNet Weekly podcast. Sabrina is a native of California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley.