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Growing Hemp in PA: What’s New for 2020

Late in 2019, the USDA released its Interim Rule on Hemp. This rule is the overarching set of policies that will govern production of hemp across the land. As long as any given state’s hemp policies comply with this USDA rule, they may also further regulate hemp production within their state. Pennsylvania’s hemp production policies have grown and shifted over the last several years to comply with federal law and to meet the needs of growers of this new crop. The 2020 Pennsylvania Hemp Program process was recently announced and reflects some changes from previous years to come in line with the new federal rule as it currently stands. Several of the changes are reviewed here, but be sure to visit the PA Department of Agriculture (PDA) website to view the official documents.

What’s new for 2020

  • Deadline for submission is April 1, 2020.

  • Reduced application fee. The 2020 application fee will be $150 per permit, reduced from 2019. However, in 2020 each growing site will require its own application and permit. Previously one permit holder could establish multiple field sites under a single permit, but now each geographic location will be permitted separately.

  • Certain varieties will be prohibited. Given the information gathered by the Commonwealth over the past three years, varieties that tested above 1% THC will be excluded from production, and varieties that tested over 0.3% THC (but under 1%) are advised against. A list of prohibited varieties and varieties of concern can be found on the PDA website.

  • Land area requirements. For outdoor production, a farmer must grow at least a ¼ acre and 300 plants; for indoor production, at least 2000 ft2 and 200 plants. This will likely deter some hemp “hobbyists” from doing any hemp gardening.

  • Geographic exclusions. Hemp will not be permitted to be grown within a certain distance of school zones, public recreation areas, and residential dwellings (there are some exceptions for this, such as for farmsteads, with prior written approval).

  • Physical separation from other non-hemp crops. This will surely restrict intercropping, but probably allow for cover cropping.

  • A copy of a lease must be provided. For growers renting land, PDA will require a signed copy of the fully executed lease in 2020.

  • Must report hemp to FSA. Like many other crops, acreage of hemp will now be required to be reported to the Farm Services Agency.

  • Specifies “key participants” as those who must obtain an FBI background check. A person or persons who have a direct or indirect financial interest in the entity producing or processing hemp, such as an owner or partner in a partnership, or a corporate executive. The background check must be done no more than 60 days prior to the application date.

  • THC testing. Growers will have to test for THC within 15 days prior to harvest. The crop must be retested if harvest is delayed beyond 15 days. Testing must be conducted by a PDA approved individual. PDA will be sharing details on sampling protocol and also certification of samplers as soon as they are finalized. Following implementation of the certification program, a listing of certified samplers will be shared with permittees.

  • Must test the terminal buds of female plants of each variety and lot. Must be “statistically accurate sample”—no details are yet available here on precise protocols for this. The analysis must be done at a DEA-approved laboratory, at permit-holder’s expense. Most of this is being dictated by the new USDA rule, and the Commonwealth is forced to comply, so we will likely learn more once state officials determine how to interpret the federal policy. Understandably, much of the pushback from growers is focused on the THC testing requirements since the logistics they present for growers, testing labs, and state officials are quite challenging.

  • Processors must now be permitted. This is a welcome change because not only will it help regulators ensure processor compliance with local, state, and federal law, it means we might get a comprehensive list of processors available within the Commonwealth. This is a great starting point to help growers seek buyers, storage providers, and processors locally!

What hasn’t changed that may remain challenging

  • A 0.3% delta-9 THC, decarboxylated (aka, total THC) upper limit for all types of hemp. This has not changed, but compliance with this THC level continues to be problematic in the industry.

  • Application period closes. While year-round growth of certain types of hemp (like young plant production) is a reality, there won’t be rolling applications. So, even if you plan to grow indoors starting in November, you have to submit your application now.

  • Application is still on an annual basis. This is in contrast to programs in other states which grant permits for up to 3 years. You’ll still have to apply every year.

  • No required buffer distance between permitted hemp operations. Pollination may still be an issue for CBD growers in proximity to other types of hemp production. However, now that permitting is tied to growing location, farmers may be able to see where all other plantings are planned and reach out accordingly.

An interactive hemp map is now available on the PDA website, which shows permittees by zip code.

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