Florida farmers question state Ag rules on hemp crops

Field of hemp. Credit: René Nijs via Flicker

Future hemp farmers of Florida fear that proposed rules for cultivating and producing hemp contain big flaws, especially restrictions on seeds and methods for testing crops for over-the-limit concentrations of psychoactive THC.

The concerns came at a public hearing Friday, where the Florida Department of Agriculture’s draft hemp rules were discussed.

Chris Topping of Cedar Key and others said the rules as proposed require growers to plant “certified” seeds and cultivars (clones) that aren’t readily available.

“If there is no feminized, certified seed, how are farmers going to know what seed to plant?” Topping asked. He said Florida farmers hoping for harvests in spring or fall 2020 need to know what they can plant as soon as possible, but the restriction as written “takes most people right out of the equation.”

Department of Agriculture lawyers said they understand the dilemma but are hamstrung by statutory language mandating that hemp seeds planted in Florida must by certified for quality through AOSCA, the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies.

“We are aware of the scarcity of certified seed providers,” said General Counsel Steven Hall.

“The statute has handcuffed us,” added senior attorney Courtney Frazier.

Topping and others want the Department of Agriculture to ask state legislators to remove the “certified seed” language.

The Ag representatives and farmers in the audience discussed ideas such as buying AOSCA-certified seed outside Florida – Topping said it’s scare and expensive – and bringing live plants grown from certified seed in other states into Florida, if they pass inspection for pests and disease.

Charles Savage, owner of House of Hemp CBD Wellness in Tallahassee, said the certified-seed requirement and testing methods cited in the proposed hemp rules make it likely that Florida’s first-year farmers will be unable to produce hemp below the legal limit for THC, the psychoactive property found in marijuana, hemp’s cousin.

“That is an automatic set-up for failure,” Savage said.

Topping and Savage said they think targeted changes in the rules will give Florida farmers a reasonable chance of making money off hemp, if those farmers can tolerate risk and don’t invest more than they can afford  to lose.

Another hearing on the hemp rules will be held on Monday in Tampa, and public comments will be accepted through Oct. 31.

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