SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Rulemaking is the only legal hurdle left for Illinois farmers interested in growing industrial hemp.
This administrative process is underway now by Illinois Department of Agriculture staff.
Once the rules are finalized, Illinois will become the 35th state allowing commercial hemp production.
Here’s what interested farmers should know about the coming months:
The bill allowing hemp production was signed into law on Aug. 26 by Gov. Bruce Rauner. His signature automatically set off a 120-day countdown for department staff to create and finalize rules for growing the crop.
Rulemaking simply is the state government’s process of assigning state agencies, such as the ag department, to create administrative law through the adoption of regulations.
Before this process started, ag department staff met in early October with interested parties to collect their input. This included Jeff Cox of the IDOA’s Bureau of Medicinal Plants; Molly Gleason of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, the group which pushed for the bill allowing hemp production; and representatives from Farm Bureau, Illinois Crop Improvement Association, Illinois Environmental Council, Illinois Farmers Union and Illinois Industrial Hemp Association.
The timeline, as Gleason and Cox described it, calls for a draft rule publication and review in late October to early November, then a 45-day public comment period, opportunity for changes, a second publication, review by the state legislative rules commissions and then finalized rules would be shared by the 120-day deadline, Dec. 23.
“I don’t know if that’s plenty of time for farmers just now thinking about planting hemp. But for those farmers who have already done their homework, it’s plenty of time,” Gleason said.
Likely to be included in the rules will be a farmer registration process through the ag department’s Bureau of Medicinal Plants, Cox said. For a yet-to-determined fee to cover department costs, registration will focus on who is the producer, where it’s grown and the end-use market (oil, fiber, seedlings, etc).
“There will be testing toward the harvest just to make sure the THC level is .03 or lower,” Cox said, adding that a second test is triggered if a “hot” result shows up. It the crop is determined to be illegal as industrial hemp, it would be destroyed, Cox said.
Cox has been attending workshops and conferences for hemp regulators for years now. He said that Illinois’ rules are heavily influenced by those in Colorado and Kentucky, the two largest industrial hemp producers in the U.S.
In the meantime, this is the traditional time period for farmers to start ordering seed and potential growers have been calling the alliance for guidance on how to proceed. “We’ve been telling them to sign up for our newsletter because that’s how we’ll keep people up to date,” Gleason said.
The alliance is creating a free newsletter and a free LISTSERV group about the crop. Gleason emphasized that alliance membership is not required for either informational service.
What’s next in the process is waiting for the draft rules. “Once we have those draft rules, then we’ll start rallying the troops to weigh in on those draft rules and make sure farmers have input and see that we share any information needed for changes to IDOA,” Gleason said.
There’s also plenty of networking and planning outside of the state government’s role with hemp. Besides the alliance, the Illinois Farmers Union, Illinois Hemp Industries Association and University of Illinois Extension have been working with farmers on advice or preparing training opportunities, including one possibly in March.
“We are starting see more interest from all kinds of support groups, including those interested in training,” Gleason said, adding that training would focus more on the 2020 growing season.
“Some farmers who have been anticipating the passage of this law have been going to trainings in Wisconsin and other places. There are some farmers will be planting this season will be ready to apply,” she said.