Hemp growth can start in spring if feds keep current pace

Updated: Oct. 21, 2019 at 6:41 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Farmers could begin growing industrial hemp by the spring of 2020 if the state and federal departments of agriculture continue to hammer out logistics at their current pace, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) Commissioner Mike Strain said Monday, Oct. 21.

Strain presented a federally-required hemp production rule book in a joint meeting of the Louisiana legislature’s committees on agriculture. LDAF intends to send the proposed rules to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which must approve the state’s policy.

Congress legalized the production of hemp in the 2018 farm bill, excepting the industrial plant from a list of illicit drugs. Hemp is a cousin to marijuana, but a person would drown in hemp product before it produced a high.

“I know there’s a full-court press to get this done," Strain said. “We have all these timetables.”

The feds must first write their own rules for hemp’s growth before it accepts Louisiana’s additional regulations. Strain says he expects the USDA’s policy to be finished in November, meaning Louisiana could begin issuing farmers permits to grow the lucrative plant by New Year’s Day.

Because the cannabis plant does well in arid climates, lawmakers are hoping Louisiana can become a leader in hemp production. Experts expect Louisiana farmers would be able to harvest at least two hemp crops annually.

“Every farmer won’t dive into this, because it is labor intensive,” Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, said. "But I do think the ones that do get involved in it, it will pay off for them.”

Strain estimates 100 to 200 farmers will plant hemp in as much as 80,000 acres of Louisiana soil in 2020.

The plant is expensive to cultivate and the regulations are stringent, meaning smaller operations may not be able to produce the plant for some time. One hemp seed can cost as much as $6, Strain says, with 5,000 to 16,000 seeds per acre.

Farmers will have to go through an extensive permitting process, and each crop will be watched carefully by state regulators. Farmers must also have a relatively clean criminal history, with no felony convictions in the last decade and no drug convictions in the last two years.

Perhaps the best-known hemp derivative, CBD products have already become a common treatment for bumps and bruises. During the 2019 Regular Legislative Session, lawmakers agreed to levy a 3% tax on CBD production and dedicate the revenue to early childhood education.

State leaders are hoping the plant becomes a cash cow for farmers whose operations were slammed by high water and expensive tariffs in 2019.

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