Even with USDA rule, SD farmers have to wait to plant hemp

Elisa Sand

At a minimum, South Dakota legislators will need to approve the growing of industrial hemp in the state before farmers can move forward with any licensing or growing plans.

That’s even after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week plans to publish an interim rule concerning the production and regulation of industrial hemp. That rule was slated to be published in the Federal Register on Oct. 31.

It will allow some farmers to get certification for hemp production directly from the USDA — but only in states were growing hemp isn’t prohibited. So South Dakota famers will have to wait.

District 3 state Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, who opposed the 2019 measure that would have allowed industrial hemp in South Dakota, said given the choice between operating under federal rules or establishing its own regulations, South Dakota usually prefers drafting its own plan.

Those are the two options for the regulation of industrial hemp under the interim rule.

Novstrup said he’s not ready to endorse the idea until he knows it won’t make it difficult for law enforcement. He said he also wants assurances that growing industrial hemp won’t lead to recreational marijuana.

“That’s a question that needs to be asked. The last thing we need is people having another vice,” Novstrup said.

District 28A state Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade, has been a proponent of industrial hemp and is a member of the legislative committee reviewing the topic. He said that so far testimony hasn’t highlighted any issues with law enforcement or regulations in other states.

Lesmeister said committee members have heard testimony from people in Kentucky, North Dakota, Montana and Minnesota. State officials and law enforcement haven’t reported any issues, he said, although he did note one arrest in North Dakota when a producer attempted to grow hemp without going through the licensing process.

South Dakota’s industrial hemp committee has been waiting for the publication of the interim rule by the USDA, Lesmeister said, and drafting of bills for the 2020 session has already begun. There are ways legislators could ensure it goes into effect quickly, he said.

“We could throw an emergency clause in it,” he said. “If we do it early in session, we’d force our hand to deal with it early.”

Lesmeister said the measure could also include provisions for how quickly the state would have to have regulations in place.

But Gov. Kristi Noem has been opposed to industrial hemp for many of the same reasons as Novstrup. She vetoed the hemp bill passed by the Legislature earlier this year, and an attempt at an override failed.

According to a statement from Noem’s office, the proposed UDSA regulations are under review.

USDA Undersecretary Greg Ibach said states with existing plans must submit them for USDA approval, which will take no more than 60 days.

Producers who grow industrial hemp must be licensed to do so and certify which acres are used for growing the crop so that information can be relayed to law enforcement.

State plans for the production of industrial hemp must also include:

  • Provisions for testing the THC levels. THC is the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.
  • Procedures for the disposal of industrial hemp that exceeds acceptable levels of THC, which is 0.3%.
  • A farm inspection plan to ensure producers meet regulations.

Despite the fact that South Dakota hasn’t authorized farmers to plant industrial hemp, Lesmeister said industries are developing in the state. Seed producers are working with North Dakota to become certified seed producers for hemp. And one company is working on developing a seed coating for germination, he said.

Hemp Processing Solutions in Harrisburg supplies ag equipment for the industrial hemp industry, he said, and local honey processing companies are also ready to begin processing CBD oil. It can be extracted from hemp, and some people use it to reduce pain, anxiety or depression or for other health purposes.

Lesmeister said there’s also a growing industry of building products made with hemp.