New regulations for Kings County hemp farmers
HANFORD — Concerned residents and county officials filled the room on Tuesday morning as the Kings County Board of Supervisors voted on an interim urgency ordinance regulating the cultivation of hemp in Kings County.
Tulare County recently passed a temporary moratorium on the growth of hemp March 26. It was later expanded to a 22 month moratorium on April 30. This prevents farmers in Tulare County from cultivating hemp. Officials decided to pass this due to the lack of regulation and instruction from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Hemp farmers need to plant within the next few weeks in order for crops to be ready for harvest according to The Kings County Agricultural Commissioner-Sealer. This puts extra pressure on the Board of Supervisors when deciding what the ordinance should entail.
They have been drafting the ordinance since they had a study session on hemp a few months ago.
Agricultural Commissioner Jimmy Hook said the ordinance in Kings County will impose regulations on hemp as an academic research crop. Meaning it will affect farmers growing for research or academic purposes to learn more about the crop.
Hook made it clear during the meeting that this will not be a moratorium on growing hemp in Kings County. In other words, it will not stop farmers from harvesting or growing it.
Kings County Supervisors Doug Verboon, and Richard Valle vocalized their support for the crop, recognizing its versatility in many different products.
Hook said, “There is an opportunity here to harvest a viable and profitable crop. So, they [The Board of Supervisors] wanted to allow farmers to experiment and learn from it so that it might do well in the future.”
According to the new amendment to chapter 14 in the Code of Ordinances, “This ordinance will allow the county to permit, monitor, and inspect the cultivation of hemp in the county and fill the regulatory gap, obtain information about the crop for further uses, and recover its costs.”
The board voted to adopt the interim urgency ordinance 5–0. It will be in effect until Dec. 31, 2020, unless it’s otherwise amended or repealed.
Specifically, the ordinance allows the Agricultural Commissioner to test levels of THC — the chemical compound that produces psychoactive effects — before the hemp is harvested.
Farmers will also be limited to 1-acre of land per permit holder if hemp is being cultivated for research or educational purposes.
This differs from hemp being farmed for industrial purposes, “California allows for a commercial hemp program overseen by the Industrial Hemp Advisory Board within the California Department of Food and Agriculture,” According to California Food and Agricultural Code S81000 to 81010 (2016).
Those farming industrial hemp must have the proper permits, acerage, and seed from approved cultivars. They must comply with the components of the state law.
Dave Robinson, Kings County Sheriff, encouraged the board to adopt the ordinance so officials will have a base set of guidelines to follow when regulating it this growing season.
During the unscheduled appearances portion of the meeting, many Kings County residents expressed their concern over the cultivation of hemp in residential areas.
Robinson agreed, adding his concerns about the theft that might affect growers as it is possible for criminals to mistake hemp for marijuana plants.
Hemp looks similar to the marijuana plant, but holds key differences. Marijuana produces a sticky bud containing significant levels of THC, while hemp contains low levels. Instead, the crop serves as an ingredient in many different everyday products like clothing, lotions, oils, and paper.
In order to ensure safety of hemp farmers and others, he has added a fourth person to the Agricultural Crimes Task Force.
While various community members were eager to see the ordinance put into place so residential areas are better protected, Kings County Farm Bureau executive director Dusty Ference said he felt the ordinance is rushed, and would benefit from more time under review.
In September 2018, California Legislature changed the definition of industrial hemp and removed growing restrictions, “this act removes barriers to the growth of industrial hemp as an agricultural product, and for agricultural or academic research.”
Unfortunately, the bill does not address product safety or testing requirements directly. It authorizes the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to establish these regulations in accordance with the law.
The CDFA proposed regulations regarding sampling, laboratory testing, and destruction of industrial hemp in late May 2019, the regulations must be adopted on a local level before they can be enforced.
The California Department of Agriculture (CDFA) found a pressing need for regulations, “The absence of regulation could result in a potential direct loss of over $43,000,000 to California farmers.”
President Donald Trump signed into law the 2018 Farm Bill early last December. This bill, passed with bipartisan support, legalizes hemp on a federal level giving states the power to regulate it how they please.
Since then, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been working to create quality control standards for hemp production. According to the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, “It is expected that the final [regulations of hemp] will be implemented by the end of calendar year 2019.”
This means that until the USDA establishes a set of guidelines, counties are responsible for appropriately regulating farmers.
“Any time you have a new crop, there needs to be regulations,” Hook adds during the meeting. Hook, among other officials present at the meeting, have been concerned that the lack of regulations on hemp will result in it being unlawfully pushed into the market.
Valle recognizes the imperfections of the ordinance, “The action we are taking today is what’s best for the county, and will allow the ag commissioner to get out there as well and do his job. This will be modified and become better overtime between now, and possibly November is when we’ll have a final product that works better for everybody,” Valle said.
Originally Published in The Valley Voice on June 7 2019