By TIM ALEXANDER
INDIANAPOLIS — A free program for farmers interested in or considering growing hemp will proceed during the Indiana Farm Equipment and Technology Expo, despite a recent announcement by the Indiana State Chemist and Seed Commissioner’s (ISCSC) office that Hoosier farmers will not be allowed to grow the crop during 2020, as was anticipated.
Instead, due to late-issued USDA rule governing hemp production following a public comment period, the opportunity for Indiana farmers to cash in on a new source of income from a growing industry will have to wait until at least 2021.
“It has been determined that we have no choice but to move forward with 2020 as a research year in Indiana,” said Don Robison, MBA, seed administrator for the ISCSC office, in a Nov. 30 update. “The alternative was not to license anyone until possibly too late in the year to effectively grow outdoors.”
State officials and regulators, including Dr. Robert Waltz, Indiana state seed commissioner, plan to outline federal and state regulations on the commercial production of hemp for potential growers and processors on Tuesday, Dec. 17, at 1 p.m. at the Expo, held on the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The lineup of speakers, which also includes hemp farmer Mark Boyer, Justin Swanson of the Midwest Hemp Council, and Purdue University agronomy hemp specialists, will also focus on agronomy issues intended to help with production and crop protection decisions.
According to Waltz, the delay in “going live” with commercial hemp production in Indiana may be a blessing in disguise for a state that, to date, doesn’t have the necessary infrastructure to process and market the crop once it’s grown.
“With the implementation of these rules as set down by the USDA, many states including Indiana will have to go through some sort of legislative process to either change the language of their statutes, adopt rules, and in some cases secure funding — even for things like modification of data systems and licensing systems, annual reports, and other pieces the USDA document spells out,” Waltz said. “Continuing on with our research program through October 2020 allows us more opportunity to comply with the federal law.”
Among the consequences of the USDA’s rulemaking delay: Indiana’s Hemp Plan will not be submitted to the USDA until nearly the end of 2019. After that, USDA will have up to 60 days to approve or disapprove of the plan, or ask for changes.
In addition, national criminal fingerprint background checks of potential hemp farmers will need to be completed by applicants and attached to their applications; background checks will take more time. Each hemp grower will also have to register at his or her local Farm Service Agency location, under the requirements of the USDA Interim Final Rule. Finally, all hemp seed sold and distributed within or into Indiana is required to be tested and labeled, and growers will have to familiarize themselves with the testing and labeling process.
“This is a lot of information to digest,” admits Robison. “The office of the Indiana State Chemist staff are working diligently to be ready for the 2020 season.”
The delay in allowing growers to produce hemp could allow more energy to be devoted to encouraging investment in the infrastructure necessary to support production, according to Waltz. “Anything we can do as a state to encourage the development and acquisition of infrastructure is probably to the benefit of everyone. Having said that, you don’t put up a big facility if you don’t have supply, and potential processors have to meet with growers to explain their conditions and set up production (contracts),” he said.
The delay in implementing legal hemp production will also allow potential growers and those participating in research studies another year to learn more about the varietal options and optimal growing conditions, the state seed commissioner noted. “Varieties that may excel in Colorado or elsewhere, when brought to Indiana’s rich soils, high moisture and heat, may turn into a fast-growing, “hot” plant in terms of THC content. You don’t know until you can experiment or work with it,” Waltz said. “The point is that growers really need to be cautious in terms of their investment right now. We’ve got a lot to learn, and people who are going out and committing vast resources into hemp right now I think are positioning themselves for great disappointment. We just don’t have the knowledge (of suitable varieties) or the infrastructure, nor do we have the market demand to allow for an inundation.”
Over 60 varieties of hemp seed were analyzed by Indiana researchers in 2019, according to Waltz. Data from Indiana’s 2019 pilot hemp project are currently being analyzed, and a preliminary report will be delivered at the IFETE hemp seminar. Admission to the Expo and to the hemp seminar are free.
See www.indianafarmexpo.com for more information and to download a free parking voucher.