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Hemp farmers in Nebraska address new problems with USDA

Posted at 7:58 AM, Aug 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-29 08:58:26-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — A few weeks ago we looked inside one of Nebraska's first hemp farm in Plattsmouth, but now those farmers and others are facing new challenges in production.

The United States Department of Agriculture visited Nebraska hemp farms, like the Wiles family farm, to figure out challenges new hemp farmers are facing in a state that hasn't fully developed their hemp growing program yet. This is all part of the USDA's plan, as they are planning to release federal regulations in the fall to help farmers, like the ones in Nebraska, continue to grow hemp under restrictive circumstances and work under a federal plan.

"The role of the USDA here is to kind of set the framework for states to operate within. So we will have the basic model, but states are free to develop their own programs that could be more restrictive," said Greg Ibach, Under Secretary of the Marketing and Regulatory Programs for the USDA. "We hope to have those regulations in place in time for states to submit their plans, to approve their plans, so that growers like the Wiles' can operate in the 2020 growing season under the federal plan and the Nebraska plan. We hope to have those regulations in place in time for states to submit their plans, to approve their plans, so that growers like the Wiles' can operate in the 2020 growing season under the federal plan and the Nebraska plan."

After growing their hemp in a green house and researching the crop for weeks, alongside the University of Nebraska Lincoln, the Wiles' say they need Nebraska to open up hemp testing labs. The hemp needs to be tested for THC levels. If the plant has 0.03% or higher THC content, it cannot legally be qualified as 'safe' hemp, and has enough THC to get a person high.

The problem is that in order to test for THC levels, the crop has to be shipped to an out-of-state lab, like Colorado, but the postal service requires a guarantee that the THC contents are low before shipping. Nebraska farmers cannot guarantee that because they have no resources to prove the THC contents are that low. That means that if Nebraska farmers can't hand deliver their plants to labs, they can't get them tested.

"That doesn't mean states like Nebraska cant catch up. It just puts them at a different place in the continuum, but Nebraska farmers have shown over and over again that they can go into new industries," said Ibach.

Ibach and the Wiles spoke about possible solutions to the lab testing problem. Ibach said hemp and THC levels are heavily regulated if being used to produce CBD oil or products. If farmers switch over to hemp fiber production, the crop is less heavily regulated because it is not ingested.

"The fiber side of it is pretty low risk as far as THC carrying ability of it. I think there's less regulatory hurdles maybe down the road on the fiber side," Ibach said.

He thinks hemp fiber production has been overshadowed by all the excitement about CBD oil and products. For now farmers are going to have a way to make do with their circumstances, and even the Wiles, are open to researching and exploring new ways to produce hemp safely in Nebraska.