Florida lawmakers are considering two bills that would ease some of the barriers to the new hemp market. With 2020 being the first year that farmers can wade into the hemp business, a lot is riding on the legal interpretations of the industry.
The bills will allow Florida hemp farmers to use any seeds approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a move that would align the state’s program with new federal oversight, and will clear up some of the CBD retail concerns that have followed this industry from the jump.
With upwards of 2,000 farmers interested in planting hemp this season, the stakes are high. Jeff Greene, co-founder of the Florida Hemp Council, says that it’s going to be a collaborative process among legislators, researchers, farmers, processors and consumers. It’s a work in progress.
Last year, Florida manufacturers were bringing in biomass from out of the state and processing it into oils and other products. This year, the plan is to spin a homegrown industry in the Sunshine State. Whether Florida growers run into the same supply chain issues that have plagued the rest of the U.S in these early years of the market remains to be seen. Greene says the Florida Hemp Council is here to fill in the education gap between the burgeoning industry itself and the longtime farmers who are curious enough to try their hand at hemp (to say nothing of the legislators working hard on the crop’s learning curve).
“At the end of the day, the legislators are all 100% on the same page, so they don't want to disenfranchise or hurt any farmers,” Greene says. “And so, to that end, letting a free-for-all, letting all seeds come into Florida isn't the right answer, because you realize that there's going to be magic bean sellers out there that are going to take advantage of farmers who are ignorant [of the hemp market’s specific supply issues]. And then the clamping down and only allowing a specific association certification is also not good because now you're going to have disenfranchised farmers that can't get those seeds.”
Trying to thread that need is the current challenge.
And while the USDA has set up some helpful guardrails in its interim final rule (it may be helpful in guiding farmers toward appropriate seeds for their particular climate, for example), it also “reset” the industry and changed how farmers need to look at things like THC content.
“I would say 80% of the seeds out there are considered marijuana, considered not hemp,” Greene says. “And so, it's a reset, if you will, of the industry to find the seeds that actually are considered hemp.”
Going down that line even further, Greene worries that most of the hemp genetics on the market that will comply with the USDA’s new rules will also deliver lower cannabinoid content in general. Lower THC content, yes, but also lower CBD content, which is going to have a dramatic impact on many farmers’ bottom lines.
A note of caution hangs in the air in Florida. Greene says that the risk-averse may be better of waiting another year or two before trying their hands in the marketplace. He points to the shifting state of regulations and the pure economics of the situation as two reasons that may change: tighter, clearer oversight and rising prices once the market stabilizes. In the meantime, though, the risk is enticing farmers across the state.