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Hemp Boosters Play Long Game In Face Of Regulatory Uncertainty

Robert Celt

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One measure of the enthusiasm engendered by the revival of industrial hemp in Kentucky is the forward thinking on display, even in the face of regulatory and technical headwinds.

There is no more conspicuous an example of this resilience and determination than in the push for organic hemp, a subset of the fledgling industry that was buoyed by a commitment from John Roulac, CEO of California- based "superfoods" purveyor Nutiva, to eventually buy organic hemp produced in the commonwealth.

"For [Roulac] to come to Kentucky to speak in our building, to our potential growers about organic hemp is a very big deal," said Andy Graves, CEO of local processors and promoters Atalo Holdings Inc. "The learning curve on the organic side is very steep. John knows that. ... For him to come, it's a huge deal. And for him to commit to buy our crop is a very big deal."

But not all the news was good. On the eve of the recent "GoOrganic!" seminar at the Hemp Research Campus in Winchester, the U.S. Department of Agriculture pumped the brakes on the whole enterprise.

"Organic certification of industrial hemp production at this time is premature and could be misleading to certified organic operations, given that the legality of the various uses of this product has not yet been determined," reads a USDA edict issued Feb. 16 clarifying its policy. "Until USDA guidance regarding industrial hemp production under the Farm Bill is completed, (National Organic Program)-accredited certifying agents may not certify the domestic production of industrial hemp."

But any disappointment voiced by seminar leaders at the agency's cautious move was tempered by confidence in the industry's momentum, if not inevitability.

"They just dropped this kind of bomb on us the past couple weeks but I think hopefully I'm optimistic next year the USDA will be certifying organic hemp," said Roulac, who was the seminar's keynote speaker. "This is a crop that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew and it has a rich history in Kentucky."

The event was organized by Atalo Holdings and the nonprofit Kentucky Hemp Research Foundation. Dozens of prospective hemp farmers and entrepreneurs heard from experts who explained the processes and costs – both in the fields and in regulatory red tape – that go into organic certification.

Carrie Stilwell, a specialist with the certification agency California Certified Organic Farmers who is based in Asheville, North Carolina, spoke to the costs and time involved getting certification. Despite the pause in certifying hemp, she said, farmers still can prepare for the day that is lifted or changes.

"And that doesn't mean you can't get your farm certified," she said, noting that certification of farms is related but differs from certifying a crop.

Perhaps most important, the seminar was sponsored by viable companies that use organic hemp in their products, including Nutiva and Dr. Bronner's. Nutiva's Roulac noted that organic commands a premium that is about double the cost of non-organic, making the cost of certification worth it to growers who can manage the details. He said a domestic crop would help his company and U.S. farmers.

News Moderator: Robert Celt 420 MAGAZINE ®
Full Article: Hemp Boosters Play Long Game In Face Of Regulatory Uncertainty
Author: M Davis Nicols
Contact: Business Lexington
Photo Credit: None found
Website: Business Lexington
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