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USDA Gathers Stakeholder Input on Hemp Production

The Agricultural Act of 2018, better known as the 2018 Farm Bill, authorizes the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to approve plans submitted by states, territories and Native American tribes for the commercial production of hemp. Under the 2018 Farm Bill, “hemp” is the cannabis plant and any part of that plant, including the seeds and all derivatives, extracts, and cannabinoids, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis. The USDA is currently drafting regulations on hemp production, which could address topics such as sampling processes, testing requirements, disposal of violative plants and products derived from those plants, inspections, licensing, compliance and other procedures.

To solicit stakeholder input on these procedures and their implementation, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service hosted the 2018 Farm Bill Webinar on the Domestic Hemp Production Program on March 13, 2019. The webinar drew more than 2,100 participants and featured over 40 speakers, including state agricultural and government officials; representatives of Native American tribes; and representatives from banks, testing laboratories and standards organizations, trade associations, law firms and hemp product companies.

During the webinar, the USDA announced plans to issue its regulations in fall 2019, in time for the 2020 growing season. However, this timeline may be a tall order, given the number of complex and controversial factors involved, such as plant testing procedures and interstate transportation of hemp and hemp products. Based on the robust discussions during the webinar, any regulations or procedures for plant testing are likely to be heavily scrutinized, as different states test different portions of the plant; test the plants at different times (e.g., before or after harvest); and use different testing methods.

Click here to view the full webinar.

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The Intersection of Spirits and Marijuana

In the past three years, TTB has approved an increasing number of certificate of label approvals (“COLA”) for hemp-flavored vodka, from Mill Six’s hemp, white tea and ginger flavored vodka to Olde Imperial Mystic’s hemp infused vodka. Distillers have designed labels with green smoke-like images and psychedelic sixties-style lettering to hint at their cultural connection to marijuana. As more states have legalized recreational cannabis, distillers have been thinking more ambitiously about combining their distilling business with one or more aspects of the emerging marijuana business.

Read the full article.

Originally published in Artisan Spirit: Winter 2017.

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Farm Bill Expiration Looms as Congress Seeks Path to Conference, Vital Funding Hangs in the Balance

The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are wrestling with how to rewrite the nation’s food and agriculture policy through a new Farm Bill.  After the previous bill expired last year, Congress provided a partial extension on January 1 that has kept most programs operating.  That stopgap measure will expire at the end of the fiscal year on September 30.  If no successor Farm Bill is agreed upon, it will jeopardize a host of programs, including vital funding for the beer and wine industries.

Seeking to avert another extension or an outright expiration, in June the Senate passed a complete Farm Bill (S. 954) that achieved $24 billion in savings and made significant reforms to a variety of programs.  But one week later, the House could not address concerns over the size of nutrition cuts and saw its version (H.R. 1947) go down to a rare defeat on the floor.  In July, House leaders returned to the floor with an abbreviated Farm Bill (H.R. 2642) that omitted the nutrition title and gained the necessary votes for passage.

Within the Farm Bill, the Market Access Program has been funded at $200 million annually since 2006 and has served to build and maintain overseas markets for America’s beer and wine industry.  This necessary and highly effective program seeks to counter foreign government promotion of their alcohol beverage sectors.  Should the Farm Bill expire, this funding would immediately cease.

Other programs in jeopardy include research, specialty crop block grants and vital pest and disease exclusion activities.  Under the current extension, the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) – a dedicated program for the specialty crop industry that provides significant funding to the winegrape industry – was left entirely without funding.  Research funded via SCRI is slowly winding down due to those missing federal resources.

Congress has not yet established when and how to resolve differences between the two bills.  The Senate and House theoretically could move immediately to conference, despite the nutrition title’s absence from the House version.  But that would likely upset interests who thought the House’s original $20.5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was too small.  That amount was five times larger than the Senate’s $4 billion in SNAP cuts.  At present, the Senate Democrats have announced their members for a conference committee, while the Senate Republicans and the House are yet to appoint theirs.

Regardless of the policy issues, the clock is ticking.  When Congress returns from their August recess, they will have less than ten legislative days before the end of the fiscal year to address the future of the Farm Bill and a host of essential programs it governs.

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