Farmers and ancillary hemp businesses are not happy with the THC testing standards outlined within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) interim federal rules for hemp production.
The rules require that hemp crops not exceed 0.3% total THC, which is derived from the sum of delta-9 THC and THCA content, on a dry weight basis.
Crops testing higher than 0.3% THC will have a small margin of error, called a “measurement of uncertainty,” depending on the lab used for testing. Hemp crops must test within the “measure of uncertainty” to be considered acceptable.
Farmers wouldn’t be considered in negligent violation unless their crops test above 0.5% THC, meaning they may not be prosecuted with a drug crime.
However, crops that test at 0.3%-0.5% THC would be subject to disposal, the USDA says.
The rules took effect Oct. 31, although the USDA has opened a 60-day public comment period to gain insight from hemp farmers as well as the hemp and broader agricultural industries.
The USDA hopes to have final rules in place within two years, according to Undersecretary Greg Ibach. When the interim rules were unveiled, he said the agency had received the most questions about the THC testing protocols.
Hemp Industry Daily asked hemp business owners about the THC testing rules and what they’d like to see the USDA change.
Before the rules were released, hemp farmers were hopeful the USDA wouldn’t designate THC testing requirements to account for total THC. But they knew it was a possibility when the agency revealed the difficulty it was having with the issue.
“There are very few people arguing (for) total THC, not just delta-9. But there are plenty of folks savvy enough to kind of see (that it) really doesn’t make sense that they would only go by delta-9, because … there are some pretty potent THC screens that are below 0.3% delta 9 (THC) that would not, in my mind, qualify as hemp,” said Mike Leago, founder of the Denver-based International Hemp Exchange and chief operating officer of High Grade Hemp Seed.
“So we’re left in this predicament where there’s not a perfect answer right now, and I don’t think anybody is out to try and screw over the American hemp farmer,” he said. “But this new set of rules is going to make it a little bit more challenging for farmers to be in compliance.”
Others say the USDA’s THC testing rule will deeply hurt hemp farmers and ancillary businesses.
“They just suffocated the farmers,” said Ryan Pettigrew, a Fort Collins, Colorado-based hemp consultant.
“They also hurt all the time and money that’s gone into creating high-cannabinoid, high-CBD-specific genetics that are more profitable for the farmers.”
Some states already test for total THC. But the standard requires close crop management and attention to detail, Leago said.
“While we would like to see a little bit more leniency on the value of that total THC … there are still solutions for farmers,” he said.
Leago advised hemp farmers to:
Source stable genetics.Field test their crops for THC early and often.
Emerging Industry, Unstable Genetics
Enforcing such stringent THC levels may be counterproductive, according to Steven Turetsky, general manager of Shi Farms in Pueblo, Colorado.
“We’re in the infancy of this industry, and so much more research needs to be done … to understand what stresses the plant and what makes the THC level go up,” Turetsky said.
“We need to continue to breed plants that stay below that limit, which is going to take time.”
Another concern about the new THC testing rules is the sampling timetable and the number of available labs.
Under the USDA rules, hemp flower material must be sampled within 15 days of anticipated harvest. Samples