Florida’s foray into developing hemp as a cash crop that will spur the creation of related processing and manufacturing industries in the state could get final federal approval in time for the 2020 growing season, officials say.
That timeline was firmed up Tuesday when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its Domestic Hemp Production Program rules.
With publication of the federal rules, states can now submit their proposed hemp regulatory plans to the USDA for endorsement and eligibility for a variety of new hemp programs.
“Today’s announcement by the USDA is welcome news to the many Florida farmers I have heard from who are excited to take advantage of this alternative crop,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said in a statement. “This keeps us on track for implementation of our state program ahead of the 2020 growing season.”
Congress approved hemp farming and product production in the 2018 Farm Bill, taking the plant off the federal Schedule 1 list of banned drugs. Hemp is a cannabis species with very low levels of the psychoactive ingredient THC found in marijuana.
After authorizing hemp pilot projects at the University of Florida and Florida A&M University in 2017, Florida lawmakers created the nascent state-sanctioned hemp program with the adoption of Senate Bill 1020 during the 2019 session.
Fried said the state’s draft rules under SB 1020 are finished and should be submitted to the federal government shortly after the public comment period ends Thursday.
She expects Florida’s hemp program to receive USDA approval no later then December, when her department will start processing applications so farmers can start getting seeds into the ground in time for the crop’s 2020 growing season.
Florida Cannabis Director Holly Bell has predicted the state will receive about 8,000 applications for cultivation permits with about 3,000 farm operations to qualify and start growing in January.
The state’s final draft rules approved Oct. 21 call for 12-month, non-transferable licenses. The rules place security measures on hemp as a “potentially invasive species” that could spread beyond where it's cultivated, and require growers to submit samples prior to harvest to check for THC concentration, which cannot exceed 0.3 percent. If it does, the state will require the entire hemp crop to be destroyed.
The draft hemp rules also require farmers to notify the state before harvests, and to ensure it is secure once cut. The transport of hemp products is also detailed.
Fried, a former cannabis corporation lobbyist, has been championing hemp as an alternate crop since she assumed office in January as the only statewide-elected Democrat in Florida.
In a speech to the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Future of Florida Forum in Orlando Monday, Fried reiterated her prediction that hemp would be a $30 billion industry in the state within a decade.
“I’ve compared it to the printing press, that that is the type of impact that it is going to have on our state,” she said. “It may take a couple of years. But I guarantee you, mark my words, that within 10 years that we are going to be known for hemp here in the state of Florida.”
Fried told the forum that for hemp to develop as a viable industry, it needs more than framers. Locally grown hemp, she said, could be a boon for entrepreneurs, manufacturers and processors of all types.
“Having industrial hemp here in our state is going to create a marketplace for products that we cannot only export to our neighbors in the rest of the United States but really create Florida-first, America-first products that we can export to other countries,” she said.
Despite Fried’s enthusiasm, all is not as rosy in the burgeoning hemp industry across the nation where harvest returns are not meeting forecasted profits.
According to Pennsylvania State University’s Southeast Agricultural Research & Extension Center, half of Pennsylvania’s hemp crop has no buyers, including 75 percent of the crop grown for CBD oil.
Hemp Industry Daily reported on Oct. 11 that half of North Carolina’s hemp farmers expect they’ll have to store harvested crops at great expense because it can’t be sold this season.
A September spot price index report by Hemp Benchmarks, a North American hemp market financial firm, indicated that some farmers selling 2019 crops are also trying “unload” 2018 harvests.
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