Tuesday, September 01, 2020

First year of nationwide legal industrial hemp cultivation has been a bumpy ride; USDA reopens comment period on rules

UPDATE, Sept. 5: The Department of Agriculture "is reopening the comment period to the interim final rule (IFR) that was published on Oct. 31, 2019, and it has established the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program," Successful Farming reports. Comments will be accepted until Oct. 8.

The first year of nationwide legal cultivation of industrial hemp has been a bumpy one, but entrepreneurs and industry analysts say they're optimistic. "Although there are many more licensed hemp growers than there were in 2019, hemp acreage is down by 9 percent, the first year-on-year decrease since Congress allowed hemp pilot and research programs as part of the 2014 Farm Bill," Chuck Abbott reports for the Food & Environment Reporting Network. "Wholesale prices slumped this year due to an oversupply of hemp flowers and biomass. Some farmers were unable to find buyers for their 2019 crop."

The industry has been bedeviled by inconsistent regulations since the 2018 Farm Bill authorized widespread hemp cultivation but left most regulations up to state and local governments. The Food and Drug Administration, meanwhile, has not resolved questions about cannabidiol regulation, deterring many from investing in hemp, Abbott reports. The pandemic, too, has hurt the burgeoning industry just as it has hurt other agricultural sectors and the U.S. economy overall.

Hemp entrepreneur Morris Beegle said the industry has a "bright future," but must overcome obstacles to expand beyond the CBD market and into more whole-plant cultivation for things such as fiber, Abbott reports. "Hemp can also be used in textiles, biocomposites, fuel, and livestock rations, though those uses, which generate lower revenue for hemp biomass, have drawn less attention."

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