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Public hearing on hemp rule set for Jan. 22

By Jennifer Dorsett

The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) will host a public hearing to take comments on the proposed rules for growing industrial hemp in the Lone Star State.

The hearing is set for Jan. 22 at 9 a.m. at the Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) Conference and Training Center in Waco.

Comments on the state’s proposed rules are due Feb. 10.

“Once TDA receives the comments, they’ll consider them and publish the adopted rules, which will be what hemp farmers have to abide by going forward,” TFB Associate Director of Commodity and Regulatory Activities Brant Wilbourn said.

TDA submitted the state hemp plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Oct. 29, 2019.

The proposed rules were published Jan. 10 in the Texas Register, the journal of state agency rulemaking in Texas. The state hemp plan must be approved and finalized before TDA can begin granting licenses to legally grow hemp in Texas.

In addition to the state comment period, USDA also has an open comment period for federal rules and regulations establishing a domestic hemp production program. The USDA comment period closes Jan. 29.

Wilbourn noted the interim final rule from USDA has some areas that may prove difficult for farmers, including the 15-day period allocated by USDA to sample hemp crops for acceptable tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration levels.

THC is the main psychoactive component in cannabis plants. Cannabis with a THC level exceeding 0.3 percent is considered marijuana, which remains classified as an illegal substance under state and federal law.

“One issue we’re watching is the timeline between when regulators visit a farm to collect samples of the crop for THC levels and harvest. Fifteen days isn’t really workable,” he said. “A lot can happen in a week in Texas weather.”

If a natural disaster struck during the waiting period, the crop could be worthless.

Farmers could harvest the crop in that 15-day window under USDA rules, but if the THC content came back above acceptable levels, the harvested crop would have to be destroyed.

The farmer would lose their investment on growing and raising the crop, as well as the money spent on the labor-intensive harvest. Wilbourn noted it’s a devastating prospect for any farmer, but especially for someone investing in new equipment and other costs associated with starting a new venture.

He urged farmers and other interested parties to submit comments to USDA and to attend TDA’s public hearing in Waco.

“It’s important to attend and provide your input on the proposed rules, because these rules and regulations will be implemented for Texas hemp farmers,” Wilbourn said. “If you see a problem, speak up. These state and federal agencies need to hear from those who want to grow hemp on what they think will work and what won’t.”

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