The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is planning to distribute a national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the industry.
In partnership with the the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and the University of Kentucky, the federal agency intends to “conduct a survey to collect information from U.S. hemp producers on current production costs, production practices, and marketing practices,” according to a notice set to be published in the Federal Register on Friday.
“The survey will also be administered to Tribes that have approved hemp production programs, in order to get input from tribal hemp production,” the department said.
But before it can send questionnaires out, the department has to formally request approval to circulate the surveys from the White House Office of Management and Budget, and so it’s opening a 60-day comment period where stakeholders can submit feedback on the necessity of its proposal and areas where the scope of the survey can be improved, among other topics.
If authorized, USDA said it expects about 18,000 hemp producers to participate in the survey, which will consist of four main components and which it expects to take respondents a half-hour to complete.
First, it wants data on production location, licensed acreage, planted acreage and harvested acreage by end-use. “Collecting this information is necessary to develop an understanding of the industry across the country,” USDA wrote.
Then there will be a section on “production costs and practices” that touches on issues related to seeds, labor, fertilizer, licensing fees and testing. “This section dives deeper into the production costs for hemp and asks specific questions about the types of hemp,” the department said.
Another section will cover “contracting and marketing practices” and will include questions about farmgate pricing by end use, contract usage, contract structure and storage.
A final demographic section will collect information on producers’ ages, education levels, experiences, household sizes and races.
“The data obtained from the survey will be used for forecasting hemp activity and to develop a representative understanding of hemp production practices and costs at national, regional, and state levels,” the agency said. “Once the survey has been administered and the results collected, the University of Kentucky will summarize the raw data from the survey into a comprehensive report for [USDA].”
This survey announcement comes one week after USDA closed an extended public comment period on its proposed hemp regulations. Its initial round saw more than 4,600 submissions, but it said last month that it was reopening the feedback period in response to intense pushback from stakeholders on its original proposal.
The federal Small Business Administration (SBA) said last month that the new 30-day comment window is too short and asked USDA to push it back, and it also issued a series of recommended changes to the interim final rule on hemp, which it says threaten to “stifle” the industry and benefit big firms over smaller companies.
All told, it appears that USDA is taking seriously the feedback it’s received and may be willing to make certain accommodations on these particular policies. The department’s rule for hemp is set to take effect on October 31, 2021.
In July, two senators representing Oregon sent a letter to Perdue, expressing concern that hemp testing requirements that were temporarily lifted will be reinstated in the agency’s final rule. They made a series of requests for policy changes.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wrote to Perdue in August, asking that USDA delay issuing final regulations for the crop until 2022 and allow states to continue operating under the 2014 Farm Bill hemp pilot program in the meantime.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) also called on USDA to delay the implementation of proposed hemp rules, citing concerns about certain restrictive policies the federal agency has put forward in the interim proposal.
The earlier pilot program was initially set to expire on October 31, but it was extended to September 2021 through a congressional continuing resolution that the president signed late last month.
The senators weren’t alone in requesting an extension, as state agriculture departments and a major hemp industry group made a similar request to both Congress and USDA in August.
Perdue has said on several occasions that DEA influenced certain rules, adding that the narcotics agency wasn’t pleased with the overall legalization of hemp.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, hemp industry associations pushed for farmers to be able to access to certain COVID-19 relief loans—a request that Congress granted in the most recent round of coronavirus legislation.
While USDA previously said that hemp farmers are specifically ineligible for its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, that decision was reversed last month. While the department initially said it would not even reevaluate the crop’s eligibility based on new evidence, it removed that language shortly after Marijuana Moment reported on the exclusion.
Two members of Congress representing New York also wrote a letter to Perdue in June, asking that the agency extend access to that program to hemp farmers.
Hemp farmers approved to produce the crop do stand to benefit from other federal loan programs, however. The department released guidelines for processing loans for the industry in May.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.