IFB submits comments on proposed hemp rules, encourages quick review

Licensing of farmers, family members and employees a major issue. Without a license, growing industrial hemp remains illegal in Illinois.

Anyone who could plant, grow or harvest industrial hemp will need a license, which is proposed to cost $1,100 per noncontiguous plot for three years. (Photo by Stephen Patton)

By Kay Shipman

Noting Illinois Farm Bureau’s long-term support for legalization of industrial hemp production, IFB suggested several changes and sought clarification on proposed requirements in written comments it submitted to the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA). IFB also raised the importance of timing, given a fast approaching growing season.

“We strongly encourage IDOA to review the comments received during the first comment period, complete any needed changes to the proposed rules and publish the rule on second notice as quickly as possible,” wrote Bill Bodine, IFB associate director of state legislation. “Delays in completing the rulemaking process may mean that Illinois farmers will be unable to secure a license in time to begin growing industrial hemp in 2019.”

Then-Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation legalizing industrial hemp production Aug. 25, and IDOA published proposed license regulations for cultivation and processing on Dec. 28. The public comment period ends Feb. 11.

IFB urged IDOA to ensure the proposed state rules align with new federal requirements in the farm bill.

One of IFB’s main questions centers around the licensing of farm family members and farm employees and at what cost. Without a license from IDOA, it is illegal to grow industrial hemp in Illinois.

Under the proposed rules, not only would a farmer need to be licensed but so would any family member or employee who might plant, grow or harvest industrial hemp. Likewise, the rules propose a farmer, farm family member and employee would need to obtain a license to process, possess, transport or store industrial hemp. Both licenses are proposed to cost $1,100 per noncontiguous land area for a three-year license.

IFB recommended the rules allow a farm family member and/or employee to help with production activities under the farmer’s license or to do so under another licensing requirement at a much lower fee.

Similar concerns surface in the license requirements to transport industrial hemp. As proposed, any individual, including a third party hired by a licensed farmer, would have to pay $1,100 for a three-year license whether that individual plans to use it for three years or not. IFB recommended changing the transportation requirement to be less restrictive and less expensive.   

Another question raised by IFB was how rotating industrial hemp to a separate field will be dealt with under a three-year license. Under the proposed rules, each noncontiguous hemp field must have a separate, three-year license of $1,100. The organization recommended allowing a licensed farmer to submit a different field location annually for the three years without incurring a new license fee.

IFB also raised concerns about a proposed 90-day requirement for a farmer to submit a license application before planting.

“This amount of lead time is excessive and should be reduced,” Bodine wrote. “A requirement to apply 90 days before planting may be too restrictive for some farmers. ... This is especially true for the 2019 planting season.”

IFB recommended the application lead-time requirement be reduced to one as short as possible, but no more than 60 days.

Farmers interested in growing industrial hemp are encouraged to learn about the proposed licensing process and the challenges of growing and marketing the crop.

IDOA will hold a public hearing on the proposed hemp license rules at 1 p.m., Feb. 5 in the IDOA office on the Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield.