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If You Want To Grow Hemp, USDA Says Here's What You Must Do

Farmers will need a state or federal license to grow hemp.
Esther Honig
Harvest Public Media file photo
Farmers will need a state or federal license to grow hemp.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is laying out its plan for hemp production, 10 months after the 2018 farm bill paved the way for farmers to grow it. 

The new federal program, which will be published Thursday in the Federal Register, is an “interim final rule” open to public comment. It would require farmers to secure a license from the USDA or their state if they want to grow hemp. 

Many states are establishing their own rules for hemp production.

Missouri, for example, is accepting citizen comments on its hemp program from Nov. 1 through Dec. 1. 

And in Iowa, the Legislature last spring approved growing 40 acres of hemp. The state is finalizing rules, and the state Department of Agriculture said it will use the national program as a guide.

All state programs must be approved by the USDA. 

The federal program makes hemp eligible for certain farm programs such as loans, conservation and disaster assistance. 

“All these programs will be starting, for hemp, in 2020 crop year,” said Bill Northey, USDA undersecretary for farm production and conservation. “Diversified producers who grow hemp will also be able to purchase whole farm revenue protection,” a form of insurance that isn’t specific to individual crops.

Northey said at least for now there will not be a specific crop insurance program for hemp. 

The pioneers in the industry, who were authorized to grow hemp through pilot programs under the 2014 farm bill, will bring in some of the first harvests this fall. 

“The experience that producers have this fall with harvesting their crop, handling their crop finding buyers for their crop are going to be very instructive as to whether or not we see continued growth in the hemp industry or whether or not producers take a step back,” said Greg Ibach, USDA undersecretary for market and regulatory programs. 

The prospect of a new commercial crop appeals to a lot of farmers, Ibach said, and he and other agriculture officials encourage farmers to have reliable processors and markets for hemp before investing in planting it. 

Hemp plants can be harvested for their oil, seed, or fiber, but each end result comes from a different variety of the plant and they require different harvesting and handling techniques. 

As Harvest Public Media reported in July, some Illinois farmers are struggling with hemp, despite expectations that it could be very lucrative — some day. 

Follow Amy on Twitter: @AgAmyInAmes

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Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames. She covers agriculture and is part of the Harvest Public Media collaboration. Amy worked as an independent producer for many years and also previously had stints as weekend news host and reporter at WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts and as a reporter and host/producer of a weekly call-in health show at KUAC in Fairbanks, Alaska. Amy’s work has earned awards from SPJ, the Alaska Press Club and the Massachusetts/Rhode Island AP. Her stories have aired on NPR news programs such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition and on Only A Game, Marketplace and Living on Earth. She produced the 2011 documentary Peace Corps Voices, which aired in over 160 communities across the country and has written for The New York Times, Boston Globe, Real Simple and other print outlets. Amy served on the board of directors of the Association of Independents in Radio from 2008-2015.