The new federal farm bill could open the door for farmers to grow a more profitable crop. It could also help more people looking for an alternative treatment for pain and other health problems. That’s because the farm bill changes how hemp is classified.
“Everything you use on a day to day basis can be made with hemp,“ said Janel Ralph at her hemp growing and processing facility in Horry County.
So Ralph believes the change in how hemp is classified could affect a lot of things – even the material used in industry.
“The door panel in most of your BMWs is made out of hemp fiber composite parts,“ she said.
Hemp can also be used as a nutritional grain and also for therapeutic and herbal uses, which Ralph focuses on as the CEO of her company Palmetto Harmony. People use her hemp products, such as CBD oil, to manage pain, reduce inflammation and even reduce seizures.
She has been growing hemp as part of South Carolina’s pilot program, and now the new U.S. Farm Bill clarifies that hemp is a legal crop because it can’t get you high. Meanwhile, marijuana will remain illegal federally.
“It’s not open season on marijuana,“ explained David Dewitt, a Clemson Extension agronomy agent.
Dewitt has been overseeing the state hemp program.
“The USDA is going to have to kind of look at what the law that was signed [says] and turn it into some policy,“ he said. “But what I understand is each state is going to have to submit a plan to the USDA as to how they want to administer their hemp program within the state.“
That will lead to some regulations about who can grow hemp and how it will be tracked.
“Once that plan is approved then your state has to either register or license farmers to grow the crop itself,“ Ralph explained.
Some of the regulations about who can farm hemp will ensure that the product doesn’t contain THC, which is the chemical that makes people high. There will likely also be some registering and tracking of where hemp is grown to ensure that regulators can check crops to be sure they aren’t marijuana.
“The ag economy is not great with our traditional crops, and we need a boost to get some cash flow into farmers’ pockets,“ Dewitt said, explaining one of the reasons there is interest in growing hemp.
Most Carolina farmers who have been growing hemp in the pilot programs focused on getting CBD oil out of the plant. Producing CBD has been the logical way to make a profit. The change in the farm bill lays the groundwork for regulations to guide the industry outside the state pilot programs.
“We’ve been operating in a space that is a real gray area, and there’s really nobody regulating the industry,“ Ralph said. “Now what it does because it’s out of the authority of the DEA and law enforcement, it gives authority to the USDA and the FDA to actually start setting up regulations around this.“
Ralph said regulations will be a good thing. She said it means more safeguards to be sure people are getting the approved natural ingredients they expect when they buy hemp products.
Dewitt said the farm bill will also open up hemp farming so that banks will be more willing to give farmers loans for hemp growing, and the crops will also likely qualify for crop insurance.
“They were treating it just like marijuana (before this change in the farm bill),“ Dewitt said.
He said now that the farm bill makes hemp fully legal there has been a lot of interest by potential farmers beyond those who have been participating in the state’s pilot program. However, he believes it will be at least several more months before the state creates a state regulatory plan that gets approval from the USDA. After that, the state would be ready to allow more hemp farmers.
“So don’t think you can go and just start planting hemp in your backyard right now,“ Ralph said. “It doesn’t work that way.“