IDOA drafting rules for industrial hemp production, IFB provides input

Official hopeful rules can be in place early next year.

Farmers who grow industrial hemp will be required to submit reports before planting and harvest. (Photo courtesy of Jeanine Davis, North Carolina State University)

By Kay Shipman

While Illinois prepares to license industrial hemp production, the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) point person helping develop new rules emphasized the focus is reasonable regulations.

“We’ve had a lot of interest from the public. We’re really making an effort to keep people informed,” said Jeff Cox, head of IDOA’s medicinal plant bureau.

On Aug. 25, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation legalizing industrial hemp production. The bill gave IDOA 120 days to develop rules governing industrial hemp cultivation and processing. Illinois Farm Bureau policy long supported production, processing and use of industrial hemp.

Cox noted the rulemaking process includes two, 45-day comment periods after the rules are published, which hasn’t happened. The legislative Joint Committee on Administrative Rule also must approve the rules that give IDOA regulatory oversight of production and processing. Cox hopes the rules are in place early next year.

“Illinois Farm Bureau is providing input to IDOA on the rulemaking process and closely monitoring the activity,” said Bill Bodine, IFB associate director of state legislation. “We are looking for a regulatory process that is reasonable and workable to allow development of this new potential crop.”

IDOA “wants to treat industrial hemp like a commodity (crop) as much as possible,” Cox said. But farmers “must understand this is a regulated program. You can’t just go plant.”

Cox anticipated individuals seeking production licenses may need background checks, although the details haven’t been finalized. During a recent agriculture stakeholder meeting with IDOA, the agency received input supporting background checks to ensure licensed producers are legitimate, he added.

Licensed producers can expect annual field inspections and possibly a random inspection to test crop samples, according to Cox.

Farmers will be expected to submit preplanting reports with the date and number of acres planted and the variety. They will also have to submit a preharvest report at least 30 days prior to anticipated harvest to allow for crop sampling and a postharvest report. “We (IDOA) want to get as close to harvest as we can to get a (crop) sample,” Cox said.

One major unknown remains the pending 2018 farm bill, which includes an industrial hemp section that would resolve questions about many concerns, including sources of certified hemp seed. Illinois is drafting its industrial hemp production and processing rules to dovetail as closely as possible with the proposed federal program, Cox said.

For now, the federal law “is very gray” on hemp seed because of Drug Enforcement Administration opinions, Cox said. Most state programs are operating under the 2014 farm bill that allows universities and state ag agencies to grow hemp for research.

Cox expected IDOA to have a certification process of industrial hemp seed for sale to growers. Seed certification organizations reported industrial hemp seed standards exist.

As for the cost of a license, IDOA wants the fee to be reasonable, but must cover the expense of inspections and travel, Cox said. He expected a yearly license fee for growers and a registration fee for processors.

Still major questions remain unanswered. To the best of his knowledge, Cox said he did not know of any pesticides currently registered for use on industrial hemp crops, although he had heard some companies are considering such applications.

And Illinois markets for industrial hemp continue to be unknown. Farmers “need to find a market,” Cox said.

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