Maryland Farmers Look for Guidelines On Hemp

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The meeting room was packed on Jan. 15 for the Maryland Hemp Exchange Roundtable.

Hosted by the Maryland Farm Bureau, the roundtable included speakers Jim Drews, operations manager with the Office of Plant Industries & Pest Management of the Maryland Department of Agriculture; Dan Galluzzo and Eryck Stamper from the Maryland Hemp Exchange; and Kevin Atticks, founder & CEO of Grow & Fortify.

Attendees came hoping for guidelines on Maryland’s hemp production plans and regulations. Fred Coulbourn, who owns 38 acres in Caroline County, hopes to get in on the production ground floor.

“There’ll be an abundance of growers once hemp catches on,” Coulbourn said. “They’ve got to take it past the growing to processors and markets.”

Like most of the attendees, Coulbourn wanted to know how Maryland intends to regulate the hemp growers and where he’ll be able to sell his product after harvest.

Maryland has not yet submitted a plan to the USDA for overseeing the production of hemp for commercial use according to the 2018 Farm Bill. Maryland has opted to allow growers to apply directly to the USDA for permits to grow hemp. But, Drews pointed out that the USDA has not provided states and producers with application forms for growing hemp. Farmers are being urged to follow the guidelines under the 2014 Farm Bill. He did warn, however, that as of November, hemp producers’ crops would not be protected if the produce failed to meet regulations being devised based on the 2018 Farm Bill.

Additionally, Drews warned, the new regulations change the THC levels definition. Instead of the previous Delta 9 THC level of 0.3%, the 2018 Farm Bill calculates the plant sample’s total THC; that is the Delta 9 plus converted THC to determine that the level is below 0.3%. Converted THC is based on heating the sample which produces additional THC.

Crops must be tested 15 days before harvest by independent labs that will collect random samples from the producer’s fields. If the samples have THC levels above 0.3%, the crop must be destroyed. When asked how that destruction was to be accomplished, Drews said that destruction of hemp plants is a problem. They have tough stalks, not easily ground up, plowed under or burnt. He said that was one of the many unresolved problems in preparing Maryland’s hemp regulations.

Among the attendees was Linda Gerrie, who’s looking at hemp production for 20 acres of her farm in Charlotte Hall. She was looking for specifics: How long is the growing cycle? What markets are being developed in Maryland? Who will offer seed? It is presently illegal to transport hemp seed across state lines.

That’s where the Maryland Hemp Exchange stepped in. Galluzzo, marketing manager for the organization, offered farmers a total package.

“We are at the birth of an industry,” Galluzzo said. “Thirty thousand products can come from hemp — good products. 99.9% of hemp products now come from China. China uses hemp for paper, for clothing, for food and animal feed.”

He noted that X59 industrial hemp seed produces the highest quality fiber, almost pure white, which can be woven into tough, durable cloth.

“One acre of hemp can produce 10 times the amount of paper as an acre of trees,” he said.

The Exchange is offering farmers a package deal, from seed to harvest. The Exchange will provide sufficient X59 hemp seed for a farmer’s acreage, then they’ll buy all the hemp plants’ product. X59 is a dual-crop seed, capable of producing hemp oil and grain. According to Galluzzo, X59 seed has never tested above the cut-off 0.3% THC level, eliminating one of the pitfalls of the crop.

“You need about 30-40 pounds of seed per acre.” Gulluzzo said. “That’s about $180 per acre for seed. The crop takes about 70-80 days to maturation.”

From its plants can be harvested CBD oil, fiber for cloth and grain for animal feed. In exchange for the seed, farmers agree to sell their crop exclusively to the Hemp Exchange and not harvest X59 seed for independent use.

“We’ll buy your product and resell it,” Galluzzo said. “We’re working now to develop more markets.”

During a Q&A session, audience members asked about hemp’s susceptibility to weeds and whether there were legally approved pesticides and herbicides available. Drews knew of the approval of only soft materials, primarily for insect infestations.

The hemp plants would be virtually organic. It was also noted that the hemp plants grow fast and create a full groundcover that chokes out weeds.

Crop theft has been identified as a serious problem. Drews noted that the hemp grain plants in the fields are smaller and less familiar to the untutored observer. He also said that Maryland is reticent to set up a crop mapping for hemp due to the loss of privacy and fears of thefts.

Colby Ferguson, of Maryland Farm Bureau, addressed the audience briefly and acknowledged that there are still many unanswered questions for those considering becoming hemp growers. He emphasized the importance of building a reliable demand and markets for the products.

“My goal (is to) find options for you to sell to,” he said. He added that Maryland Farm Bureau will be expanding its investigation of industrial hemp’s promise for Maryland’s farmers.

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