SCFB shares concerns of state’s hemp farmers

Hemp has been grown in South Carolina since authorized by state law in 2017 with currently over 100 permitted growers in the state; S.C. farmers have only just started learning about and growing hemp. This crop has many potential benefits for our state’s farmers but comes with equally high risk and many unknowns as the industry continues to take shape. USDA recently rolled out an interim rule for the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program. SCFB looks forward to working with USDA and the South Carolina Department of Agriculture to ensure the viability and success of this budding industry; however, there are concerns our organization has with the interim rule. SCFB submitted a letter with concerns raised by SCFB members and the SCFB Hemp Committee to USDA. SCFB continues to work hard to ensure a viable hemp industry in our state.

The submitted concerns are:

  1. USDA's interim rule requires growers to test hemp plants within 15 days of anticipated harvest. SCFB believes 15 days is too short of a window in which to require harvest after testing and that instead a 30-day window is more appropriate. A 15-day window does not provide enough time for samples to be taken and to be sent off to a lab for testing, especially in a state with so few DEA-certified labs. There will be bottlenecks and unnecessary delays for hemp growers in South Carolina. A 30-day window will be more appropriate to allow the sample taker more opportunities to take and send off the sample in case of delays outside the control of the grower such as adverse weather or scheduling issues.
  2. USDA's interim rule requires the testing of total THC. SCFB believes that only delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol should be tested for in hemp plants and the amount of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol-acid (THC-A) should not be considered.
  3. USDA's sampling guidelines requires that only a sample should be taken only from the top one-third (1/3) of the plant, cut just underneath the flowering material. SCFB believes a better representative sample would be to cut from the top, middle, and bottom of the hemp plant to ensure a fair and complete testing of delta-9 THC in the total plant.
  4. SCFB believes that USDA should allow for remediation of "hot" samples by allowing growers or processors to retain any industrial hemp that tests between three-tenths of one percent to one percent delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol on a dry weight basis and recondition the hemp product by grinding it with the stem and stalk.
  5. USDA's interim rule states that testing must be completed by a DEA-registered laboratory. Currently in South Carolina, there is only one DEA-certified laboratory- the State Law Enforcement Division's (SLED) laboratory. While SCFB hopes other entities are able to obtain DEA-certification, currently the industry and SLED are facing an undue burden because of this requirement. SCFB believes this requirement will create significant issues for testing hemp samples in a timely manner and within the current 15- day window that is required by the regulations since there is one laboratory capable of handling the testing. Additionally, SLED will be required to take resources designated by the SC General Assembly for criminal investigation and prosecution and put them towards testing agricultural products which is not their statutory function.
  6. USDA's interim rule makes it a negligent violation if a farmer, even when exercising a level of care of that a reasonably prudent person would exercise, grows hemp that tests above .5% total THC. SCFB believes that the limit should be increased to 1.5% THC before a farmer is subject to a negligent violation.
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