With the first MD hemp growing season behind us and the second season rapidly approaching, there is a lot of hope and uncertainty for MD farmers. In 2019 MDA registered 69 farmers, 1577 acres and 1,069,000 sq ft of greenhouse space. With the release of the USDA’s Interim Final Rule on October 31, 2019, new federal regulations on the budding hemp industry were open for discussion for an initial 30 day window and raised much concern from industry veterans and new aspiring farmers that it was extended for another 30 days. By the time the comment period closed a reported 4,685 comments had been submitted. The comments mainly centered around three key topics: the 0.3% threshold for total THC, required destruction of an entire crop if tested above that limit by federal or local law enforcement agents, and the process by which the crop is tested.
USDA maintains that the 0.3% threshold is out of its jurisdictional hands as written into the law. The lack of remedies for testing noncompliance raised suggestions that farmers would be allowed to ship to processors who could remove the THC to keep the crop viable.
Another concern was the requirement for pre-harvest compliance testing to be performed 15 days prior to harvest and by DEA certified testing labs, of which there were limited options in Maryland, nationwide and existing facilities would not be able to handle the volume. The industry expects to be constrained by this a year after other fundamental supply-chain bottlenecks limited output and producers’ ability to bring crops to market.
The USDA has since acknowledged the complaints against the limited number of DEA-registered labs and stated that they “better understand the associated costs with disposing of product that contains over 0.3% THC could make entering the hemp market too risky”. They were able to reach an agreement with the DEA to remove the DEA-registered lab requirement for this crop year, but still expects states to work with their laboratories to try to achieve certification for the 2021 crop year.
In response to these concerns and limitations on the hemp industry the MD Dept. of Ag. along with 11 states, decided to delay their participation in the 2018 Farm Bill rule set and maintain 2014’s pilot programs for the 2020 crop year, which gained much support and restored hope for Maryland’s hemp Industry. This allowed for a clearer view of the USDA’s intentions for any other changes to be made to the Interim Final Rule before its effective date of November 1, 2021.
Hope for the MD hemp industry was again restored when SB964, did not receive enough support and died in Committee, last Saturday. HB510 and HB574 are still in Committee, but it was stated by Colby Ferguson from the MD Farm Bureau that they do not appear to have enough support to progress. These three bills were in response to odor, health complaints from urban housing developments surrounding an existing farm in Baltimore County that was licensed to cultivate hemp for the 2019 crop year and were aimed at creating a buffer between hemp farms and residences. As mentioned in the testimonials during the hearings of these bills, horrible precedence would have been set had these bills passed and the “Right to Farm” law was an affirmative defense against their passage.
As of yesterday for the 2020 crop season the MDA has registered 48 farmers, 802 acres and 320,172 sq ft of greenhouse space, so far a decrease from last year. We begin this season with remaining concerns for the lack of support from financial institutions for necessary funding needed to develop the infrastructure to improve MD’s hemp industry for both farmers and processors. As Farm Credit and MARBIDCO have stated that they can only fund existing agricultural operations based upon non-hemp related revenue and not projects directly related to hemp.