Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Dr. Ryan Quarles announced this week that his state will not submit draft hemp regulations to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, opting instead to remain under the auspices of the 2014 Farm Bill’s pilot program provisions through 2020.
The move will allow Kentucky hemp farmers a bit of breathing room, a chance to regroup and watch the federally legalized hemp marketplace settle into itself a bit. And the wariness is not unfounded. Quarles said that he landed on this decision “after much discussion with industry stakeholders in Kentucky.”
He said that his office fears a degree of overreach on the part of the USDA. And this comes more than a year after Quarles eagerly submitted his state’s original plan to the USDA, before President Trump’s signature had even dried on the 2018 Farm Bill. (A federal government shutdown that same week immediately stalled Kentucky’s plans. Here we are now.)
Earlier this month, the Kentucky Hemp Industries Association published an open letter that urged Quarles to run with this idea.
“The Kentucky Hemp Industries Association is very close to our membership, with boots on the ground all over the state,” KYHIA President Mitchell “Tate” Hall said in the public statement. “Everyone broadly supports the Kentucky Hemp Pilot Program and the efforts of the KDA, as we attempt to build hemp as a predictable, new industry.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture released its interim final rule back in October 2019, and the public comment period is still open (through Jan. 29). But the sprawling regulatory guidance has been met with raised eyebrows and palpable concern across the hemp industry. Maureen West, former Colorado Industrial Hemp Program Manager, wrote for Hemp Grower that the draft framework isn’t really working for anyone right now. Challenges are inevitable this year—for farmers and regulators.
The core issues are the USDA’s revised plan for THC testing and the 15-day period between test-sampling and harvest. With untold acres of hemp plants destroyed in late 2019 due to excessive THC levels, the new, more restrictive guidelines are cause for concern. To work around the 0.3% THC limit, industry experts have suggested the cautious approach of importing certified seed stock from Canada, where approved cultivars may be more reliable in the long run. But apart from that, on the newly legal domestic side on the hemp industry, the Kentucky Hemp Industries Association cites access to clean genetics as another problem the USDA regulations aren’t solving just yet.
Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Carolina officials have come out recent and issued similar statements.
Quarles said that his office will take the year to observe the industry and draft a state plan for 2021, which he will submit to the USDA when ready.
“Kentucky hemp producers have learned a lot since the beginning of the 2014 pilot program as they explore the crop’s potential, and we have the nation’s best Agriculture Commissioner in Ryan Quarles leading the way. By maintaining the pilot program for another growing season, Commissioner Quarles is protecting Kentucky’s farmers, processors and manufacturers while the U.S. Department of Agriculture continues developing its final rule,” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a public statement.