by Courtney Llewellyn
The USDA Final Rule on hemp goes into effect on March 22, and it includes some important changes from the previous rules on growing the crop. Alyssa Collins, Ph.D., director of Penn State’s Southeast Agricultural Research and Extension Center, discussed the permit and policy updates for growers.
The big changes give growers a little more leeway, according to Collins. They include increasing the THC level of negligence from 0.5% to 1%, and if a crop tests at 1% or greater, growers will receive a Notice of Violation and corrective action will be required. If a grower receives more than three violations in five years, they won’t be allowed to grow any hemp for the next five years. (In any given year, growers can’t receive more than one violation, regardless of how many lots test hot.)
“The plans are designed to protect growers who are doing the right thing,” Collins said. They’ll still need to destroy anything that tests above the 0.3% threshold, but they won’t be punished as someone growing something illegal.
Other changes include expanding the pre-harvest testing window from 15 days to 30 days and allowing states to establish “performance-based” sampling requirements. Performance can be based on seed certification processes (or other processes that identify varieties that consistently produce compliant plants), whether the producer is conducting research at an institute of higher learning, whether a producer has consistently grown compliant plants over an extended period of time, whether a producer is growing “immature” hemp (seedlings, clones, microgreens or other non-flowering cannabis that doesn’t reach the flowering stage) or other similar factors. Any changes to state programs will need to be approved by the USDA.
Per the Final Rule, samples must now be taken “from approximately five to eight inches from the main stem, terminal bud or central cola, including the leaves and the flowers, of the flowering top of the plants.” The entire sample must include the leaves, seeds, twigs and stems.
Remediation strategies for hot hemp now include allowing growers to dispose of flowers and keeping the rest of the plant or blending the entire plant for biomass. There were previously no avenues for remediation. Growers cannot extract THC to get to compliance, however, and remediated material is required to be retested.
Hot hemp can now be destroyed by growers on site. They can plow under, mulch/compost, disk, shred the biomass with a bush mower or chopper, bury or burn (if locally allowed) the failed crop. Farmers remain free to use any disposal method for destruction due to poor plant health, pests, disease, weather events or the removal of male or hermaphrodite plants as part of a cross-pollination prevention plan.
What hasn’t changed with the new Final Rule? The THC legal limit is the same – only an act of Congress can change that. Only designated sampling agents can take compliance test samples, and testing labs must be DEA registered (but enforcement on that is being delayed until Dec. 31, 2022). Growers can find DEA labs at ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/hemp/dea-laboratories.
This may not be the final Final Rule, though. “The new [presidential] administration is interested in continuing the momentum of this crop – hemp meets eight climate plan goals,” Collins said. (Learn more about the NHA National Climate Action Plan at nationalhempassociation.org/national-hemp-association-presents-climate-action-plan.) She also noted that Sen. Rand Paul introduced legislation in Kentucky and the Senate to increase the legal limit of THC to 1% – “and that could make a lot of people happy.”
Read more about the Final Rule at https://tinyurl.com/4we5yrx7.