March 23, 2019

Farm bill may plant seed for a new industry: hemp

Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Cindy Johnson packages industrial hemp products for mail-orders Friday at Main Street Farms in Cortlandville. The hemp industry in the state may get a boost under the federal Farm Bill, approved this week by Congress and awaiting the signature of President Donald Trump.

Allan Gandelman of Main Street Farms has been keeping an eye on the Farm Bill for months: Within the bill was a piece of legislation he was waiting for to go into affect — the nationwide legalization of hemp.

“It really opens up regulations,” Gandelman said Thursday.

The bill passed through the House of Representatives on a 386-47 vote Wednesday. The day before, it moved through the Senate, 87-13.

It now waits to be signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Within the bill are provisions behind farm policy, nutrition, trade and crop insurance.

“I am thrilled to announce our dairy farmers are finally getting some of the relief they need and deserve as part of the Farm Bill,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in a news release. “Our dairy farmers have been suffering from abysmally low milk prices, unfair trade policies and a failed insurance system for too long.”

If signed into law, the bill would open up the hemp industry, allowing farmers like Gandelman to seek financial services through banking, crop insurance and even U.S. Department of Agriculture grant-funded research.

Cindy Johnson smells a jar of industrial hemp flowers Friday at Main Street Farms in Cortlandville. The jars of flowers are displayed at market booths to show people the characteristics of industrial hemp.

However, once complete, Gandelman will still wait on one final piece — how to regulate cannabidiol from a hemp plant.

Gandelman remains optimistic. “Hopefully, industrial hemp in general will expand across the United States in textiles,” he said.

Some of the hottest debates about the bill centered around the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, where a Republican effort to increase a work requirement was dropped to win passage.

The new farm bill provides a two-year transition period for states for more than 35 changes.

More than 40 million Americans rely on SNAP — close to 12 percent of the country’s population.

In Cortland County, 5,800 people enrolled in SNAP.

It’s early to tell how the new changes to SNAP will affect people in the county, said county Social Services Commissioner Kristen Monroe. “From the little bit I read, I cannot imagine much if anything will change in our state requirements,” she wrote in an email.

A measure to ease pesticide restrictions was cut from the bill, but funding for employment and training programs was increased to $103 million from $90 million.

The Farm Bill also contains a number of other provisions. The House Agriculture Committee noted these highlights:

• Rural development — The bill authorizes annual appropriations for rural broadband and requires the USDA to establish new broadband standards.

• Specialty and organic crops — The farm bill restores funding for technical assistance for specialty crops under the new International Market Development Program.

• Trade — The farm bill restores farm funding for tools for trade promotion and market development.

• Animal health — The farm bill establishes a new national animal disease preparedness and response program to protect the health of the nation’s livestock.

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