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S.C. Agriculture Department requests changes in federal hemp rules

Staff Report //January 2, 2020//

S.C. Agriculture Department requests changes in federal hemp rules

Staff Report //January 2, 2020//

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The S.C. Department of Agriculture is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make changes in its newly established hemp regulations.

Last October, the USDA released its interim final rule on hemp, which includes mandated testing of hemp fields by Drug Enforcement Administration-registered laboratories within 15 days of its harvest. S.C. Department of Agriculture officials think the 15-day window is too narrow, among other issues of concern, according to a news release from the department.

S.C. Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers said weather conditions affect the timing of the hemp crop harvest and registered laboratories could experience backups in testing.

“We believe that several provisions in the interim final rule lack the flexibility necessary for our farmers to be profitable and for SCDA to be able to implement a successful hemp program,” Weathers wrote in the letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

The state department is also concerned it will not have staff and resources available to test all hemp produced. It said the department has not been provided with funding to administer testing.

“Even with the multitude of labs currently available, our farmers currently have real issues with turnaround times, and SDCA is dubious that the even fewer number of DEA-registered laboratories will have the capacity to complete the required tests in the necessary time frame,” Weathers’ letter continued.

He also raised concerns about testing methodology, what part of the plant samples are taken from, and the negligence threshold for farmers whose crops test above the 0.5% THC limit. The department recommended increasing the limit to 1%. 

The S.C. Department of Agriculture said it is currently writing a state plan that complies with the federal rule.

The S.C. Hemp Farming Program enters its third growing season in 2020. In 2019, 114 farmers and 43 hemp processors participated in the initiative.

Applications for the 2020 growing season will be accepted beginning in February. The department anticipates about 300 farmers will participate, with about 3,000 total acres under cultivation.