Bill would remove growing restrictions on hemp

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A multitude of Missourians made their case before lawmakers on Monday, urging the restrictions on industrial hemp be loosened.

Almost a dozen people with an interest in the fledgling industry testified in support of Sen. Denny Hoskins’ SB 482 before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources. No one spoke in opposition, and the Missouri Department of Agriculture testified for informational purposes only.

The measure seeks to eliminate the restrictions placed on growing hemp when the crop was legalized last year per the 2014 Farm Bill and brings state law in line with the 2018 Farm Bill.

“Our state law, that we passed last year, does not correspond with federal law,” said Hoskins.

As the law stands, those looking to grow hemp must pass a background check, including fingerprinting. Each producer will be able to grow maximum of 40 acres hemp, with a statewide limit of 2,000 acres.

Currently, the Missouri Department of Agriculture is working on rules for hemp in the state, which will go into effect on June 30, 2019. The department is on track to start approving applications in October of this year, putting growers on pace for spring 2020 planting.

The bill Hoskins put forth seeks to correct that while repealing acreage limits. It also has an emergency clause that only applies to universities, which would allow them to immediately start conducting research on hemp.

“Hemp is the commodity that is going to save small Missouri farms,” said one person who testified and hopes to grow the crop. “Without this, we are going to be left out.”

Supporters touted the benefits of the crop — its versatility, durability, and profitability — along with the advantage of giving farmers another rotational option. It is a crop that has more than 2,000 uses including to make rope, clothes, food, paper, textiles, plastics, insulation, concrete, biofuel, and more.

It is a crop that has not been cultivated in Missouri for roughly five decades.

Sen. Justin Brown, a farmer by trade, expressed trepidation of just opening up with all the risk being placed on the farmers and so many unknowns on the Missouri industry.  

It is with so many unknowns — from drill depth for seeds to fertilizer use — that supporters note the importance of letting universities get started on research immediately. The emergency clause with the bill would allow the crop to be planted for analysis purposes this growing season.

“That will provide a baseline of information to get going,” said James Forbes, co-founder of the St. Louis-based Tiger Fiber.

Hemp and CBD oil are currently legal to sell in Missouri, but none of it is sourced in Missouri.

One individual who testified quit his corporate job to work in in the hemp industry.

“Is there demand? There absolutely is,” said Jay Humfeld, owner of Hemp Life Kansas City. He noted that nothing he sells is locally sourced, which is causing the state to miss out on tax revenue. The sooner Missouri farmers can grow the crop, Humfeld said, the sooner Missourians and Missouri can start benefiting.

Hoskins bill needs committee approval before moving to the full Senate for debate.

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