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[image-1] In a letter sent on Dec. 20, 2019, South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers asked U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue to revise its regulatory framework for hemp to help out S.C. farmers.

As it stands, the USDA’s latest interim rule on hemp (published on Oct. 31, 2019), has testing requirements that do not take into consideration the arbitrary weather conditions farmers face on a daily basis. The federal rule mandates that hemp fields be sampled by SCDA-designated staff and tested by a DEA-registered laboratory within 15 days prior to harvest.

SCDA feels this window is too narrow, referencing both poor weather conditions and back-ups at labs. Additionally, the SCDA has not been allocated funding to administer the tests.

The issues Weathers brings up reflect some concerns shared by the farmers who spoke to the City Paper in September as we examined whether the industry could keep pace with growth. More than 100 farmers in the state are growing hemp, but the lack of regulatory measures and funding have left some of them, especially those growing hemp for CBD, in a no man’s land of sorts.[content-1] In his letter, Weathers wrote, “We believe that several provisions in the interim final rule lack the flexibility necessary for our farmers to be profitable and for SCDA to be able to implement a successful hemp program.”

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Weathers, who predicts that about 300 farmers will participate in South Carolina’s 2020 hemp farming program, recommended that the USDA implement new guidelines including:

-Providing states with funding through cooperative agreements to carry out the testing and sampling requirement set forth in the interim final rule

-Revising the interim final rule to allow for random and risk-based sampling of hemp farmers

-Adjusting 15-day window to 30-day window which has been adopted by almost all hemp cultivation states

-Increasing the limit of THC to 1% instead of .5 %. According to the SCDA, “The majority of the noncompliant results that SCDA sees are below 1% and we have no reason to believe that farmers with non-compliant samples below 1% are intending to grow a controlled substance”

The interim final rule is effective through Nov. 1, 2021. According to the USDA, comments received by Dec. 30, 2019 will be considered prior to issuance of a final rule.

SCDA will accept applications for the 2020 growing season on Feb. 1, 2020. Learn more at agriculture.sc.gov/hemp.