The hemp industry is practically an infant, and considering how unstable and downright confusing regulations surrounding hemp and cannabis are in general, it might stay that way for a while. Even so, we can still try to catch a murky glimpse into hemp’s uncertain future by looking at USDA’s announcements and gleaning information about its plans for the crop.
The THC Limit…
…is highly unlikely to change, despite many farmers’ complaints about it being too low and easy to accidentally exceed, which respectively results in serious losses and potential penalties. If the THC content of a farmer’s hemp exceeds 0.5% THC on 3 separate occasions in a 5-year period, the farmer will be banned from growing hemp for 5 years. Many believe this is harsh, especially considering how scarce seeds that consistently replicate low THC amounts are.
Bruce Summers, head of the Agricultural Marketing Service, explained during a conference call on February 6 that the THC standards are “clearly established by statute and not a regulatory issue.”
Harvest Timeframe and Sampling
An issue which the USDA is inclined to treat with a little more leniency is the timeframe within which hemp farmers have to harvest their crop once a representative sample has been tested by a DEA-approved lab. The current period of 15 days that is allowed is deemed insufficient by many.
Additionally, the USDA might be willing to consider alternatives to DEA-approved labs, as their scarcity can potentially create a serious bottleneck during harvest times which naturally more or less coincide for different farmers from a given region.
Public Comments on Regulations
Also, Summers noted during the teleconference that once the fall harvest is over, the USDA plans to reopen the floor for public comments on hemp regulations, which closed on January 29 after a three-month period that resulted in roughly 4,600 comments.
Based on the findings from the USDA’s report “Economic Viability of Industrial Hemp in the United States: A Review of State Pilot Programs,” hemp will remain a specialty crop for the foreseeable future.
“The history of specialty crops in the United States generally shows that they remain specialty crops. It is difficult to imagine, for example, the demand for acres for industrial hemp matching the demand for acres to grow corn or soybeans for animal or human food,” the report states.
With that being said, the USDA takes “the recent rapid growth of the alternative plant protein food sector” into account and doesn’t exclude a scenario in which “a ‘specialty’ crop to suddenly become a growing market sector.”
However, even if a scenario like this was to materialize, the USDA believes the central roles in it will be limited.
“Specialty and minor crops are often agronomically suited to a limited geographic area or economically viable in only a few states,” and unsurprisingly, the report finds that for hemp those are states where farmers don’t really have their hands full with competing commodity crops. And besides the competition for acreage that other crops pose, there’s also the competition from global hemp producers to be considered as well.
“The next few years should see a resolution of the legal and regulatory issues constraining hemp production in the United States, leaving domestic production, imports, consumer demand, and exports to dictate growth and long-term market size,” the report states in a diplomatic fashion, which in other words means that only future will tell.
Image Credits: NOSH