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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(s) 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, according to Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) Field Crop Specialist Theresa Sisung.

“We continue to receive questions from our members regarding Industrial Hemp production – which is completely understandable,” Sisung said. “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 said the organization will be hosting a Michigan Farm Bureau Hemp Conference Feb. 4 at Michigan State University’s Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education starting at 8 am and concluding with lunch and an open Q&A session with conference speakers.

Changes for 2020 Industrial Hemp production

According to Sisung, there’s been considerable activity, post-harvest 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 said.

Similarly, added Sisung, the Environmental Protection Agency cleared 10 pesticides for use on Industrial Hemp in late-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 said. “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, according to Sisung. USDA established the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program through an interim final rule, following 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 said.

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 that was in 2019 will continue to provide the regulatory framework for 2020, according to Sisung.

“Michigan has not submitted a state plan yet,” she said. “It’s our understanding that the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) 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 said Michigan legislators are currently drafting legislation for the state and producers to comply with USDA’s final rules.

Michigan Farm Bureau Hemp Conference held Feb. 4

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/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 KY – Andy Bishop, ag tech scientific director of Farm Service

• Farmer and Processor Panels

• Lunch to be followed by Q&A time

There is a $50 registration fee which ends on Jan. 20. You must be a Michigan Farm Bureau member to attend. Membership fees will be required at the door for any non-members.

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