Hemp has come a long way since the 1770’s when Virginia and other colonies required their farmers by law to grow hemp. The 2018 Farm Bill decriminalized hemp production and its products in the US, placing them under the authority of the USDA and FDA.
Yet, the path to organic hemp production is still far away from being clear.
Jenny Tucker, deputy administrator, USDA National Organic Program
Jenny Tucker, the deputy administrator of the USDA National Organic Program said, “The 2014 Farm Bill allowed for the production of hemp under certain circumstances. Those circumstances are that all cultivation must be registered for purposes of research conducted under an agricultural pilot program or other agricultural or academic research.”
Tucker continued “If the organic standards are met, organic certification is allowed on legally grown crops. On August 3, 2016, NOP issued Instruction 2040 on Organic Certification of Industrial Hemp Production to provide guidance for certifiers.”
NOP plans to withdraw NOP 2040 once appropriate action has been completed by the regulatory agencies with authority over this crop under the 2018 Farm Bill. Organic producers are bound first to the regulatory framework to which all hemp producers would be bound. NOP will continue to monitor that activity and will act on NOP 2040 when appropriate based on the broader regulatory landscape.
“When asked about hemp certification, we tell producers and certifiers the best source of information for guidance on hemp production is available on the USDA Hemp Production Program webpage,” Tucker said.
April Crittenden, chief certification officer at CCOF said “Producers were very excited at the end of 2018 when they thought the opportunity to grow organic hemp had finally arrived. Everyone was disappointed when the USDA announced that producers would have to meet the 2014 Farm Bill, requiring cultivation under a state or university research or pilot program.”
April Crittenden, chief certification officer, CCOF
How much organic hemp is being grown in the US?
According to Tucker “the USDA doesn’t have data on how much hemp is grown in the United States, or conversion to organic production. California’s State Organic Program (SOP) doesn’t have stats on organic hemp growers either. There is currently only one registered organic industrial hemp grower in the SOP and once approved it will be 211 acres.”
CCOF’s Crttenden said “I did some digging into the into the USDA organic integrity data base and found, 524 operations certified to produce or handle hemp, 230 certified to crop scope - those are actually growing, and 335 handlers who are producing hemp products. But the data base doesn’t provide acreage.
“I saw an article that indicated that in 2018 there were 80,000 acres of licensed hemp production, that didn’t distinguish between organic and conventional. The difference between 2017 -2018 was remarkable with the majority of that production happening in Montana and Colorado,” she said.
John W. Roulac, founder & chief hemp officer, RE:Botanicals
John W. Roulac is the Founder & Chief Hemp Officer of RE:Botanicals, the first national brand to sell U.S-grown, USDA certified organic hemp.
“The vast majority of hemp today is conventionally grown using great amounts of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, causing major ecological damage to local streams, lakes, and oceans,” Roulac said. “As market demand grows for certified-organic hemp CBD expect more organic farmers to grow the crop. To date there is no data on organic acres - the CBD industry is focused on increasing production and low cost of goods - not on organics or soil healthy.”
Roulac continued, “The booming hemp industry can pivot to eco-friendly and climate-beneficial farming practices. As consumers and retailers favor brands that are working to regenerate with hemp, organic farmers will increase their acres. Some conventional farmers may start to convert to organic on their pasture lands.”
Danny Lee, of the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) State Organic Program told OPN that “We have received questions about registering organic hemp operations, since registration is required prior to certification.
Our response is that we are waiting for the NOP to provide a guidance/policy for the labeling of industrial hemp as organic. The NOP will provide this guidance following the passage of the USDA’s hemp regulations, which they hope to have in effect by the fall of 2019.
Currently, the SOP will register “organic” industrial hemp operations on a case by case basis, provided the industrial hemp is grown or cultivated for purposes of research conducted under an agricultural pilot program or other agricultural or academic research.”