Wallaces Farmer

Iowa hemp program approved by USDA

Farmers can start applying for a license to grow hemp April 1, but no planting allowed before April 8.

Rod Swoboda

March 31, 2020

4 Min Read
hemp plants
APPROVED: Iowa’s hemp production program has been approved by USDA, putting Iowa farmers one step closer to being able to legally produce the crop for industrial purposes. Farm Progress

Iowa farmers who are interested in growing hemp can start applying for a license April 1. On March 20, USDA approved the Iowa Department of Agriculture’s hemp production plan for licensed farmers to grow up to 40 acres of industrial hemp for use in making products such as rope, paper, food and oils. 

A public hearing to solicit comments on the state plan that was scheduled to be held on April 3 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. central time will now be hosted via teleconference. Interested parties can participate by calling 866-685-1580 and entering code 0009990941#.  

“It is not legal to grow, possess, buy or sell hemp in Iowa until official notice is published in the Iowa Administrative Bulletin, which is scheduled to occur on April 8, and you have received a license from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship,” says Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “We know farmers are eager for new opportunities, and this milestone of USDA approval means they are one step closer to being able to grow hemp during the 2020 growing season.” 
Applying for hemp license 
Detailed instructions on how to apply for a hemp license are available at iowaagriculture.gov/hemp. All individuals associated with the hemp production operation must be listed on the hemp license application, and must submit their fingerprints for a background check. Interested growers can request a fingerprint card at 515-725-1470 or [email protected]. A license cannot be issued until all applicants associated with the hemp license pass the background check. 

Last year Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the Iowa Hemp Act into law, allowing the Iowa Department of Ag to develop a state program for licensed farmers to grow hemp. The state submitted its plan to USDA earlier this year, but the state agency and the federal agency reached an impasse over the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol that should be allowed in the crop. Plants with more than 0.3% THC — the compound that creates a “high” feeling — are considered marijuana, and it’s illegal to grow pot in Iowa. 

Iowa’s proposed program said hemp crops that test greater than 0.3% but not more than 2% would have to be destroyed, but the grower would not be subject to a negligent violation. USDA disagreed and said the safe window should be a lesser amount, from 0.3% to 0.5%. USDA eventually approved Iowa’s plan March 20 as long as the state follows the federal rules. 

Iowa must follow USDA rules 

“We have to abide by USDA’s negligent violation range,” says Robin Pruisner, state entomologist at the Iowa Department of Ag and the security coordinator for the state’s hemp program. This means anyone whose hemp crop tests over 0.5% THC could receive a negligent violation and be subject to a fine of $500 to $2,500. 

A license costs up to $1,500 a year to get started, and at least $1,000 to inspect and test preharvest hemp crops to determine THC content. Applicants must provide fingerprints that will be submitted to the FBI for criminal background checks.  

Pruisner says the state hired a company to develop software for online license application, but when that process was delayed, state officials decided to proceed without the software. “With our state staff teleworking for an unknown period of time due to the coronavirus pandemic, we decided the most dependable route to take was to use hard copy applications,” she says. “The applications will be available for download on our website beginning on April 1. People can contact us, and we will send them the fingerprint cards.” 

Permits to sell hemp seed 

Some people are also wanting to apply for a permit to sell seed. Before selling, distributing, advertising, soliciting orders, offering or exposing hemp seed for sale in Iowa, a retailer must obtain a seed permit from the Iowa Department of Ag. Seed dealers can apply for a seed permit now. Detailed information about hemp seed testing and labeling requirements are at iowaagriculture.gov/hemp

All questions about applying for a hemp license or seed permit should be directed to [email protected] or 515- 725-1470. Additional resources for hemp growers are available at iowaagriculture.gov/hemp

Many prospective growers are interested in producing hemp for cannabidiol (CBD), a non-intoxicating compound that can be included in many products, from skin care lotions to energy drinks. The Iowa commercial hemp production program does not legalize the use of cannabidiol for human consumption, extraction or processing in Iowa.

The federal Food and Drug Administration is still working to determine if CBD is safe for human consumption. Hemp grain, hemp seed oil and protein powder derived from hemp grain have been cleared by the FDA for human consumption. 



About the Author(s)

Rod Swoboda

Rod Swoboda is a former editor of Wallaces Farmer and is now retired.

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