Comment Period Extended for USDA Interim Hemp Rules

The USDA wants to hear from you! 

On October 31, 2019, the USDA released a set of Interim Final Industrial Hemp Rules and asked the public to send in their comments by the end of December. Thanks to a 30 day extension,  the Illinois Hemp community has an opportunity to use their choice and voice to help shape a new set of industrial hemp rules from the U.S. Department  of Agriculture (USDA) by submitting comments by January 29, 2020.

The Interim Rules provide certainty to the industry and to farmers about industrial hemp and how it will be regulated. The Rules also provide state and tribal leaders with an outline of how to design their plans, which must be approved by the USDA. The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) is working to incorporate the Rules into the Illinois State Plan for industrial hemp.

Illinois growers and processors will continue to operate under the 2014 (Farm Bill) Pilot program. The Pilot Program ends one year after the Rules are released (October 31, 2020). By that time, Illinois must have the State plan approved.

Though the rules do not sit well with everyone, they can be changed, according to Jeff Cox of the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) at the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Hemp Summit. “The USDA can only work with the laws that were passed, they want to work with us and they want you to submit comments.”

Hemp industry leaders have raised a number of concerns with the Rules. Several of the biggest concerns we heard from farmers revolve around testing, sampling, and harvesting:

Many growers consider the 0.3% THC limit an “unrealistic limit”, and may negatively impact the CBD market because hemp plants are easily stressed, which causes a spike in CBD limits. One bright note from the Rules is the USDA’s incorporation of a “Measurement of Uncertainty” (MoU). Because the USDA is sticking so hard to the limit of 0.3% THC and considering anything over that limit as marijuana, this Measurement, or margin of error, could provide flexibility on THC levels. If a grower tests over 0.3% THC the MoU could allow the crop to be within the margin of error, which may save the crop from destruction. Here is an example from the USDA: a grower tests at 0.35% THC with a MoU of +/- 0.06%. When the MoU is of +/- 0.06% to the 0.35% the range is calculated at 0.29% and 0.41%. Because the sample is in the range of being compliant (0.29%), it is indeed compliant. The MoU will not always be 0.06%, it will vary depending on methods and calibration of the machines in the DEA registered labs conducting the sample tests.

Yes, you read that right. All labs must be DEA registered according to the Interim Rules. This makes sense because if hemp samples do test over 0.3% THC, the labs will be in compliance because they are registered to handle and be in possession of a “controlled substance.” There are four labs in Illinois , all have stated that becoming DEA registered should not be a problem.

The Rules require all acres and all strains to be tested. This is quite the change to what Illinois growers are used to. During the first growing season of industrial hemp in Illinois, the IDOA randomly selected 10% of growers and took one sample from each strain of hemp being grown. For a grower with less acres, this may not be much of a problem. But for growers that have numerous acres, testing every acre could become costly and create bottlenecks in the labs. To give an idea of how many samples a grower with 170 acres would need to submit to a lab, the USDA provided an example of the calculation, which is 109 samples.

Lastly, growers also have issue with the 15-day harvest window. The window could prove to be crippling to the industry because the plants may not reach full spectrum due to early harvests. Illinois growers say they fear that the market will be impacted because growers will not want to risk such a large investment for such a small return. Grower Jeff Fulgenzi compared the lack of maturity to Illinois sweet corn: “It’s like asking sweet corn farmers to harvest before the corn is sweet.” We must also consider the lack of predictability of how different cultivars will react in different environments, soils, and climates. Every year, this year especially, farms face different harvest times for crops. As we have seen, mother nature made planting and harvesting incredibly unpredictable for farmers. With that said, how do we expect hemp farmers to predict the exact date of harvest when our row crop farmers cannot do the same? A worthy question that even the USDA is requesting more guidance on (They want comments on this!).

We have been given another opportunity to show how strong the hemp community is in Illinois. If you have read through the USDA rules and find that there are components that you are not happy with, the USDA would like to hear from YOU. The deadline to submit comments is January 29, 2020. 

Submit comments to

Please follow this link to the Federal Register to submit your comments. Simply click “Comment Now!” in the right hand corner.

Comments may also be submitted by mail to Docket Clerk, Marketing Order and Agreement Division, Specialty Crops Program, AMS, USDA, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, STOP 0237, Washington, DC 20250-0237; or by fax at (202) 720-8938. Comments received by Jan. 29, 2020, will be considered before a final rule is issued.

Suggestions for submitting comments:

Please be prepared to provide your first name, last name, and your comment. You have the option of providing your contact information and the option of submitting on behalf of a third party. Keep in mind, much of this information will be publicly viewable.

You may submit your comments in the box provided on the screen. You may also upload your comments by adding an attachment. Regulations.gov accepts all common file types including Microsoft Word documents and Adobe PDF files.

Your comments can be brief or in-depth and well researched. They can address only specific aspects of the proposed rule, fully address all aspects, or address the subject at-large. Often, the agency will ask the public to comment on specific aspects of the proposed regulation, but you may comment on any part or the whole regulation. 

Lastly, be respectful and to the point.