Senate passes bipartisan Farm Bill to legalize industrial hemp production

industrial hempToday, the U.S. Senate passed, on a bipartisan 86-11 vote, legislation that includes Virginia priorities championed by U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA).

Specifically, the 2018 Senate Farm Bill includes a Warner-Kaine sponsored measure to legalize industrial hemp production, a crop which is already cultivated for research purposes in Virginia but which the agriculture industry cannot currently grow for commercial use.

“This bipartisan bill would finally end an outdated ban that has held farmers back from participating in the industrial hemp market, allow states to decide the best way to regulate this emerging industry, and give farmers access to critical federal support to protect their investment. Legalizing industrial hemp production will bring new businesses to Virginia and create jobs,” said the Senators. “In addition, this legislation includes measures to continue successful Chesapeake Bay clean-up efforts, expand farm conservation, and preserve some of our most cherished public lands.”

The 2014 Farm Bill authorized industrial hemp to be made available for agricultural research purposes. Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, the University of Virginia, and James Madison University have been active in hemp research in recent years. However, Congress must act in order to legalize hemp production for commercial purposes. Hemp is distinct from marijuana in that it has a miniscule concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and thus no narcotic capability. The plant is estimated to be used in more than 25,000 products spanning agriculture, textiles, recycling, automotive, furniture, food, nutrition, beverages, paper, construction materials, and personal care.

Warner and Kaine’s priorities for Virginia in the 2018 Farm Bill include:

  • Hemp Farming Act: a bill that would remove hemp from the federal list of controlled substances, allowing Virginia farmers to grow and sell the plant as an agricultural commodity. States would be given authority to regulate hemp, and hemp researchers will be able to apply for USDA grants. Hemp farmers would also be eligible to collect crop insurance under this provision.
  • Chesapeake Bay Farm Bill Enhancements Act: a bill which makes technical changes to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) intended to bring more federal funding into the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The Farm Bill doubles funding for RCPP from $100 million to $200 million providing farmers with the tools they need to implement effective conservation practices within the Bay watershed. These changes will improve sustainability across the region and result in a cleaner, healthier Chesapeake Bay.
  • Virginia Wilderness Additions Act: a bill that designates specified lands in George Washington National Forest in Bath County, Virginia as part of the Rough Mountain Wilderness area and the Rich Hole Wilderness area, adding those lands to the National Wilderness Preservation System. This provision adds a total of 5,600 acres of wilderness area within the George Washington National Forest in Bath County.
  • Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI): includes a technical change to the HFFI program that would allow both retailers and enterprises to be eligible for loans and grants under HFFI. Currently, only brick-and-mortar operations are able to receive funding through the HFFI program. This technical change could allow more non-traditional food access projects – such as mobile markets, farmers markets, and food banks to access HFFI funds. These changes closely follow Sen. Warner’s efforts in the Senate to eradicate food deserts.  

In the wake of President Trump’s ongoing trade war, the Farm Bill also includes a measure that will revamp existing trade promotion programs and authorize $6 million in new funding for trade promotion activities. Trade Promotion is a technique used by the United States to pursue trade agreements that support and create U.S. jobs while helping American manufacturers, service providers, farmers and ranchers increase U.S. exports and compete in a highly competitive, globalized economy.

In addition, the bill includes measures to protect the U.S. dairy and cotton industry. It streamlines a program that allows dairy producers to insure margins—the difference between the prices of milk and feed—and increases its funding. The bill also makes cotton once again eligible to participate in federal crop insurance programs, which are used by farmers to protect themselves against either the loss of their crops due to natural disasters, or the loss of revenue due to declines in the prices of agricultural commodities. Livestock producers also receive assistance through a new program authorized by this bill that will give USDA the authority to operate a disease and disaster prevention program and a vaccine bank, including for foot and mouth disease. And the bill reauthorizes full funding to help vulnerable Virginia families put food on the table through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The bill now moves to the House for consideration. For more information on the 2018 Farm Bill, click here.

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