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Wisconsin Hemp Growers Call On DATCP To Change Regulation After Testing Delays

Some Wisconsin hemp growers say state agriculture officials didn’t test their fields on time, making their crop more likely to surpass the allowed THC level.

Under the state’s industrial hemp research pilot program, growers are required to notify the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection that they intend to harvest in 30 days. Growers then pay for the state to test their crop for THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana.

FL Morris is president of South Central Wisconsin Hemp, a farmer cooperative growing organic hemp for CBD. She said seven farmers in her cooperative are growing hemp this year and all of them submitted their 30-day harvest notification within a week of each other.

“The discrepancies of when we were actually sampled are huge,” Morris said. “We had one grower that actually gave her 30-day harvest notification one day before another grower, but she was tested 27 days after that other grower.”

As an industrial hemp plant ages, the level of THC continues to rise. Morris said DATCP’s delay in testing could be why one of the growers in her cooperative had a crop test too high for THC. She said state ag officials tested the crop one day after the grower’s target harvest date.

“The difference between one day and the next is the difference between a hot crop or not,” Morris said. “Because DATCP came out too late, they’re out $5,000. And in the meantime we’re paying $250 per test.”

Brian Kuhn, director of DATCP’s Plant Industry Bureau which includes the hemp pilot program, said the state aims to test a crop two weeks before a grower’s expected harvest date.

“We weren’t able to get to all growers within the time frame that we were hoping,” Kuhn saim. “We certainly got to most of them, but there were definitely some in that crunch time when we weren’t there within two weeks in advance of their harvest date and certainly probably a handful that we may have gotten there beyond their planned harvest date.”

But Kuhn said the 30-day harvest notice is an estimate by growers, many of whom are growing hemp for the first time this year. He said DATCP hired 10 staff members specifically for testing this year after the state saw a 10-fold increase in the number of growers approved under the pilot program. Kuhn said 10 additional staff members were pulled in to help with testing and the agency has collected over 2,100 samples so far this year.

If a hemp crop has higher than 0.3 percent THC, referred to as “hot,” Kuhn said the plant is legally considered marijuana and is required to be destroyed.

He said growers knew the risk associated with growing the crop during its second year of the pilot program.

FL Morris examining hemp plants. Hope Kirwan/WPR

State agriculture officials confirm some testing delays, but say alternative processing isn't an option under state and federal laws.

New Hemp Regulations Set to Begin November 1 in Wisconsin

MADISON, WI (SPECTRUM NEWS) — Hemp groups like the National Industrial Hemp Council are celebrating the passage of a spending bill passed Tuesday to avoid a U.S. government shutdown. The NIHC said the bill includes a provision to extend Hemp Pilot programs in states for another year — delaying the need for states to comply with federal guidelines on hemp until fall of 2021.

“With the Senate’s vote today, hemp farmers across the country will have more certainty tomorrow while states continue their important work to submit final plans to the USDA for approval,” said Patrick Atagi, NIHC board chairman in a press release.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is evaluating exactly what the passage means for the state’s hemp rules and regulations.

“DATCP is aware of this that just passed yesterday. We are evaluating the impact this has on the transition already in progress for a new state hemp plan and we are working to determine whether this will change the October 31 end date for the pilot program in Wisconsin,” said Leeann Duwe, a spokesperson with DATCP.

MADISON, Wis. — Changes to regulations on growing and processing hemp will be coming at the end of October.

The current Hemp Pilot Program for the state will sunset on October 31 and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has submitted new rules to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to comply with federal regulations.

There will be new licensing rules as well as a change to the sample testing process for hemp to check THC levels — the part of marijuana that causes a high.

“What the THC level has to test at or below isn’t changing,” said Leeann Duwe, a spokesperson with DATCP. “There’s a range now.”

The THC threshold will remain at .3 percent. However, starting November 1st, there will be a lab calculated margin of error on the tests and .3 needs to be within that. Before any test that came back between .3 and .4 would be rounded down.

For example, if a test comes back with .39 percent THC, it would have passed the previous test. Now if it comes back with .39 percent THC and a .06 margin of error, the test would not pass because .3 is not within the margin of error and the field would have to be destroyed.

The new rules have been submitted to the USDA for final approval, DATCP expects the approval to come early in October. They have more information on the state’s hemp program and resources for hemp farmers online.

Jay Selthofner, farmer and owner of Heritage Hemp Farms in Green Lake, Wisconsin, said the new rules wouldn’t impact him much.

“Eh we’ll keep going with it because I mean it just makes sense,” he said. “In any industry, you’re going to have to navigate regulatory challenges and if you cannot navigate those you probably shouldn’t be in that business, so I mean it’s just part of doing business.”

Selthofner said many people in the Hemp industry are more concerned with a Drug Enforcement Administration ruling that if the product of tests above .3 THC anywhere along the processing process it is considered a controlled substance.

Selthofner said many companies remove THC from CBD products in processing and have substances with high concentrations of THC as a result. Selthofner said that could put some processors out of business.

“When the industry stakeholders read the DEA interpretation of that rule, they don’t like it because it leaves the door open,” he said.

The Hemp Industries Association filed a suit over the rule in federal court.

“The DEA’s interim final rule could create substantial barriers to the legal manufacturing of hemp-derived products, a critical component of the hemp supply chain, and devastate the entire hemp industry,” said Rick Trojan, HIA President in a statement. “Although the DEA states that is not its intention, the rule must be amended to ensure hemp remains an agricultural crop, as Congress intended.”

Selthofner said many farmers will be able to do things like grow THC-free strains of hemp plants. He said changing regulations is normal for people in the hemp industry.

“It’s a moving target and you just get good with your aim,” Selthofner said.

So far this year 1,480 samples have been turned in for testing to DATCP, about 10 percent of them tested too high for THC. Last year 2,200 samples were turned in for testing and about 12 percent of them tested too high.

Duwe said the testing numbers are down so far this fall. She said last year they were getting 100 requests a day, but this year they have been receiving about 300 per week.

She farmers have been citing coronavirus as a reason for the test requests being down, but DATCP isn’t exactly sure how the pandemic has been impacting hemp farmers. The department had increased it’s testing staff and geographical footprint of testers for this year’s hemp harvest.

Anyone growing this year should get their plants tested by November 1st and the new regulations, Duwe said.

“Just because with the pilot program sunsetting at the end of October we want to encourage growers to get their samples in and harvested before the new program starts on November first,” Duwe said.

A public comment period on the new federal hemp regulations is open until October 8.

New rules could narrow THC testing guidelines, suit filed over DEA regulations. ]]>