2023 Farm Bill Primer Addresses Proposed Amendments

Industry advocates would like to see a variety of changes to current regulations.

Last week the Congressional Research Service issued a report on the 2023 Farm Bill which focused on hemp industry issues. The primer, written by Renee Johnson, a specialist in agricultural policy, was prepared as a document for congressional committees and members of Congress.

In other words, a Cliff Notes version of the Farm Bill.

On Nov. 15, Congress passed a continuing resolution for the budget, which averted a government shutdown. That included an extension of the 2018 Farm Bill through September 2024.

According to Farm Aid, it’s expected that Congress will use this extension to present a draft of a new farm bill early next year.

Current Hemp Market

According to the report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said that the farm-level value of total utilized hemp production was $238.4 million in 2022, down from $824 million in 2021.

Floral hemp grown in the open was the dominant type grown in 2022, as measured by total value and acreage. Floral hemp tends to command higher market prices compared with other marketable uses for hemp, including hemp fiber, grain, and seed production.

In 2022, U.S. hemp growers planted 28,300 acres of hemp and harvested about 18,300 acres, accounting for a small share of total U.S. harvested cropland acres. Hemp is grown in all U.S. states under a USDA-approved state plan or a USDA general license.

The leading hemp-producing states, with more than 1,000 harvested acres grown in the open (2022), were:

  • South Dakota (2,550 acres)
  • Oregon (1,900)
  • Montana (1,470)
  • Missouri (1,400)
  • Kentucky (1,300)

Production by state tends to be highly variable year-to-year.

Proposed Amendments

While there are various hemp industry organizations with differing priorities, one area they agree upon is that the USDA’s regulatory requirements are overly restrictive and impractical.

One such changes that stakeholders would like to see is reduction of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s oversight role in hemp. That includes removing the requirement that hemp be tested at DEA-registered labs or that eligible testing labs be DEA-accredited.

There is also a desire to change the definition of hemp, raising the allowable THC level from 0.3% to 1%, to provide additional flexibility to growers and avoid crop destruction if that limit is exceeded.

The testing itself is also on the proposed change list. Stakeholders want the USDA’s regulatory requirement for measuring THC content to be based on total THC, which includes the potential conversion of tetrahydrocannabinolic acid into THC, rather than the delta-9 THC concentration.

However, any changes to the USDA’s testing methods would result in the agency following procedures for rulemaking and commenting periods which would delay the hemp industry even further.

Other changes include:

  • Repealing the existing exclusion that keeps people with a felony controlled substance-related conviction from obtaining a hemp license.
  • Exempting hemp farmers who focus on fiber and grain end products from background checks and testing protocols.
  • Addressing the requirement for government-certified or approved seed.

Product Safety

Since the 2018 Farm Bill, which focused primarily on hemp cultivation issues, the industry has expected that the FDA would review hemp products and issue guidance on uses in food, cosmetics, and other goods. But that hasn’t happened.

Congress has introduced legislative proposals that would remove FDA restrictions on the marketing of food and dietary supplements containing added hemp-derived cannabinoids. Plus, some proposals would establish federal quality and safety standards and labeling requirements for such products.

There is also a desire to get better information regarding marketing capabilities around hemp products.

Conversely, some want to ban some hemp products due to concerns over public safety. While it wasn’t completely clear which products these were, it seems like they are referring to intoxicating hemp products.

Building USDA Support

Overall the report said that most hemp advocates seek to expand USDA farm program support for hemp and hemp products. These proposals included:

  • Expanding research related to genetics and management practices and targeted support to develop the processing capacity of hemp fibers for use in insulation, construction materials, and plastics.
  • Expanding support for hemp climate-smart and sustainability practices, promoting hemp’s soil carbon sequestration and phytoremediation properties.
  • Adding hemp to the statutory definition of a specialty crop, which most fruit and vegetable groups oppose. Designating hemp as a specialty crop could qualify hemp for certain USDA programs.
  • Expanding federal crop insurance and improving risk management tools, given the risks involved in growing hemp.
  • Improving access to credit and banking services.

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Debra Borchardt

Debra Borchardt is the Co-Founder, and Executive Editor of GMR. She has covered the cannabis industry for several years at Forbes, Seeking Alpha and TheStreet. Prior to becoming a financial journalist, Debra was a Vice President at Bear Stearns where she held a Series 7 and Registered Investment Advisor license. Debra has a Master's degree in Business Journalism from New York University.


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