Hemp Advocates Encouraged by President-Elect Biden’s USDA Transition Team

The USDA transition team’s membership and the administration’s focus on climate change signal opportunities for hemp in the Biden administration.

November 19, 2020

Advocates believe the incoming Biden administration will support the hemp industry based on previous dealings with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) transition team lead and hemp’s ability to reduce carbon dioxide levels.

The Biden administration recently named Robert Bonnie, USDA’s Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment in the Obama administration, to lead efforts to implement agency policies, set management agendas, and select personnel. This announcement was welcome news to hemp advocates who found Bonnie supportive of hemp during previous discussions.

USDA Transition Leader’s Hemp History

Bonnie “was very helpful to the hemp industry” during the Obama administration, Jonathan Miller, general counsel for industry association Hemp Roundtable, tells Hemp Grower.

As undersecretary, Bonnie met several times with hemp representatives to discuss critical issues of concern to the industry, Miller adds. While it is hard to say what this will mean during the Biden administration, he says, “what we do already know is that the hemp industry will get a fair hearing during the transition process.”

Geoff Whaling, National Hemp Association’s (NHA) board chairperson, agrees, adding that he has already reached out to Bonnie and the rest of the 17-person team to advocate for hemp.

Whaling has updated the USDA transition team on the agency’s interim final rule for hemp and industry and state challenges to it. He has also discussed the industry’s concerns with the Drug Enforcement Agency’s interim final hemp rule designating hemp byproducts as a controlled substance and what it sees as the agency’s efforts to avoid public input on the rule.

Whaling also discussed NHA’s request for a Federal Advisory Committee on Hemp and asked that the team “look to hemp to be one of the contributors to advancing many of the priorities of the Biden Harris Transition Team under the Climate Change policy.”

Climate Change Focus Benefits Hemp

The administration’s focus on climate change and environmental sustainability provide a tremendous opportunity for hemp, Patrick Atagi, the board chairperson of the National Industrial Hemp Council, says.

The USDA transition team includes numerous scientists, many of whom are focused on environmental issues, including climate change. That focus is “very favorable for hemp just because of the remediation qualities” of the crop, such as its ability to take in carbon dioxide and the fact that it is a crop that uses relatively little water.

Bonnie, who currently is the Executive in Residence at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University, was the lead author, along with fellow transition team member Meryl Harrell, of a USDA transition memo providing policy recommendations to address climate change.

An essential aspect of the report is its focus on carbon sequestration. This focus is vital for hemp, given that, according to the National Hemp Association, “industrial hemp absorbs more CO2 per acre than any other commercial crop.” This strategy potentially provides new and significant economic opportunities for hemp growers.

The transition memo calls for establishing a carbon bank within the first 100 days of the Biden administration. A carbon bank “would allow USDA to finance GHG reduction and carbon sequestration activities by producers and forest landowners,” the memo says. “In essence, USDA would conduct a reverse carbon credit auction by offering to buy tons of carbon and GHG reductions from producers and forest landowners generated through improved land management practices.”

One possible vehicle for this strategy is the Growing Climate Solutions Act of 2020, which was introduced in both the House and Senate in June. According to an NHA press release, this bipartisan legislation creates “a certification program at USDA to help solve technical entry barriers to farmer and forest landowner participation in carbon credit markets. “These issues – including access to reliable information about markets and access to qualified technical assistance providers and credit protocol verifiers- have limited both landowner participation and the adoption of practices to help reduce the costs of developing carbon credits.”

Congressman Lobbies for Agriculture Chair

Meanwhile, Rep. David Scott (D-GA) is actively seeking chairmanship of the House Committee on Agriculture. Scott would be taking the place Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) lost his reelection bid.

“I am proud to announce that I am seeking the Chairmanship of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture,” Scott said in a Nov. 5 release. Scott, who would be the first African American to hold this position, said that, as chair, he would focus on racial and economic equality.

“As our nation grapples with a racial reckoning, we must ensure that racial justice and economic equality is brought forth in our farming industry,” Scott said.

“With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, I was proud to secure $80 million in funding for a new scholarship program that provides educational opportunities to … students and will ensure a highly-skilled food and agricultural systems workforce to the ranks alongside this generation’s leaders. Building on this progress through supportive financing and opportunities for young and beginning farmers, as well as farmers of color, can strengthen our foothold toward a more equitable agricultural America.”