By Dennis Rudat
Not far behind the level of excitement about the potential of industrial hemp production in 2019 was an equally high level of confusion for a crop that up until passage of the 2018 Farm Bill was considered illegal to raise.
Understanding the rules, the best agronomic practices, a lack of handling and processing infrastructure, and the lack of a well-defined market channel for the end product was only compounded by weather-related production and harvest challenges last year.
While 2019 was a great educational opportunity, the learning curve will continue to be a steep one going into the 2020 growing season, says Theresa Sisung, Michigan Farm Bureau field crop specialist.
“We continue to receive questions from our members regarding industrial hemp production, which is completely understandable,” Sisung says. “It’s a new commodity with a lot of unknowns from every aspect — whether it’s regulatory, agronomic practices, or contracts and marketing.”
To help answer those questions, Sisung says the organization will be hosting the MFB Hemp Conference on Feb. 4 at Michigan State University’s Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education. The event will start at 8 a.m. and conclude with lunch and an open Q&A session with conference speakers.
Changes for 2020
Sisung says there’s been considerable activity postharvest 2019, which is a good news, bad news scenario in understanding details.
“Case in point, the recent announcement from USDA’s Risk Management Agency of a pilot crop insurance product was welcomed news, but it’s only available in 21 states and comes with specific nuances for industrial hemp coverage,” Sisung says.
Similarly, Sisung adds, the EPA cleared 10 pesticides for use on industrial hemp in December for the 2020 growing season. Nine of the products are biopesticides, and one is a conventional pesticide.
“In making the announcement, EPA said it will process additional applications to amend product labels for adding use on hemp on an ongoing basis and update this list,” Sisung says. “Even so, as of right now, no synthetic herbicides are labeled for weed control in industrial hemp in the U.S.”
And finally, there are the vast unknowns in the regulatory arena, Sisung says. USDA established the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program through an interim final rule after passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which required the establishment of a national regulatory framework for hemp production in the U.S.
“Most domestic hemp producers in 2019, including Michigan farmers, operated under the 2014 Farm Bill rules, which outlines provisions for the USDA to eventually approve specific state-submitted plans for regulating the production of industrial hemp,” Sisung says.
So, what about 2020 hemp production rules? According to USDA’s website, only three state plans have been approved thus far — Louisiana, New Jersey and Ohio. Another 12 states have submitted state industrial hemp plans and are pending review; another 12 states are listed as drafting a plan for review.
For would-be Michigan industrial hemp producers, the research pilot program in 2019 will continue to provide the regulatory framework for 2020, Sisung says.
“Michigan has not submitted a state plan yet,” she says. “It’s our understanding that the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development intends to wait on submitting a plan until they see what changes USDA might make between the interim rules and the actual final rules.”
Sisung says Michigan legislators are drafting legislation for the state and producers to comply with USDA’s final rules.
Michigan Farm Bureau’s Hemp Conference will help answer questions and provide the latest updates on industrial hemp production, including the following topics and speakers:
Licensing and regulations. Gina Alessandri, industrial hemp program director, MDARD
Research update. Dr. Kurt Thelen, professor, Michigan State University
Risk management. Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan crop insurance specialists
Lessons learned from Kentucky. Andy Bishop, ag tech scientific director of Farm Service
There also will be farmer and processor panels. Lunch will be followed by Q&A time.
There is a $50 fee for registration, which ends Jan. 20. You must be a Michigan Farm Bureau member to attend. Membership fees will be required at the door for nonmembers. Register at eventbrite.com.
Rudat is the Michigan Farm Bureau news director/manager, member publications.