Industrial hemp field

DES MOINES — Robin Pruisner knows it sounds funny for the state entomologist to be in charge of the new commercial hemp program. But she is taking it in stride.

“I’m answering a lot of questions about hemp,” she says.

The process itself has been an interesting one, requiring her to work with law enforcement officials and eventually with federal officials.

But at the end of the day, it means farmers should be able to grow hemp in the state in 2020, Pruisner says.

There’s a few things to do between now and then — quite a few — but the process has begun.

It really began when Congress passed the 2014 Farm Bill, which included a very limited allowance of commercial hemp production. A handful of states took advantage of that to implement their own programs.

Then came the 2018 Farm Bill, which included expanded hemp language. Now more states are working to pass laws allowing commercial hemp production. Iowa is one of those. State legislators passed Senate File 599 this spring, and it was signed by the governor on May 13.

But that doesn’t mean you can race out and plant hemp in the state tomorrow.

The next step is for the federal government to finish work on rules regarding a national hemp program.

States would then apply for approval of their own programs under that rule. Iowa is now working to develop its program so that when federal rules come out, as they should this fall, the state can apply for permission to establish a state hemp program. The federal government, by law, will have 60 days to approve Iowa’s plan.

In general terms, Iowa’s new law should allow farmers to legally grow up to 40 acres of hemp per season. It legalizes the production, processing and marketing of hemp in the state. It does not legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Hemp plants grown under the Iowa program will need to have THC levels of 0.3 percent or less. Plants with higher THC levels will be considered controlled substances and will be destroyed.

The small but burgeoning hemp industry is aimed at using the plant material to make products such as textiles, oils, paper and rope.

In accordance with the new law, an Iowa farmer who wants to grow hemp in 2020 will go through a licensing process. There will be a background check and anyone convicted of a drug felony would be banned from legally growing hemp for at least 10 years after that conviction.

A farmer would apply for a license that will cost a flat fee of $500 plus a $5 fee per acre of hemp to be planted. The numbers go up for larger plots. For someone planting 40 acres, it would mean $1,000 plus $5 per acre.

Before a crop can be harvested, the licensee must notify the state department of agriculture at least 30 days in advance so IDALS can sample and test the THC level. There is a fee of $1,000 to inspect and test pre-harvest. There are also regulations regarding the transportation of the hemp.

Hemp is not covered by federal crop insurance and no pesticides are licensed for use on hemp. That means no pre-plant herbicides can be used on hemp, as well.

And chemicals applied to the 2019 crop could be an issue. Farmers will be required to follow the herbicide label, and because hemp has only recently become a legal commodity crop it would fall under the “other crop” category on the label. Some herbicides used in 2019 could preclude the planting of hemp on those acres in 2020, depending what the label states.

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Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.