New hemp rules, first harvest bring Ag Secretary to Torrance County

Hemp on drying racks at Kismet Trace farm. Photo by Thomas Campbell.

Interim final rules and regulations for hemp production by the U.S. Department of Agriculture went into effect Oct. 31, as Estancia Valley hemp farmers harvested their crops.

New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte visited the Kismet Trace hemp farm in Torrance County Nov. 1 and spoke with The Independent about hemp.

Hemp, as defined by the USDA in new regulations, is the plant, cannabis sativa, with a concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol below .3 percent of dried weight. THC is the psychoactive component of cannabis, and with concentrations above the hemp level, is considered marijuana and subject to other laws and regulations.

Following reclassification of hemp by congress in 2018, this is the first harvest in New Mexico.

“Some of the farmers have been successful, some of them haven’t been successful,” Witte said. “It’s a brand-new crop.”

Witte said there is “such an interest in this crop, across the state and across the nation, we’re doing everything we can to showcase this, to give farmers an opportunity to progress. It’s going to become a very good crop,” he said, adding that it is attracting people into agriculture.

“It’s a more water-tolerant crop than alfalfa. It potentially has a greater return per acre than any of the crops we grow in New Mexico. CBD [cannabidiol] is the driving force,” Witte said. He said in the future other hemp-derived products like “plastics, insulation [and] paper” may become viable.

CBD is used in non-prescription cremes and oils to relieve pain and inflammation.

Jill Browning, who, along with Kathleen O’Dea, owns Kismet Trace farm, said this year’s harvest “should be around 40,000 pounds,” and given the CBD level for their crop, “that’s a one point two million-dollar crop.”

“Nobody makes 20 dollars a pound on tomatoes, corn, alfalfa. This is a big cash crop,” Browning said.

Jill Browning and Jeff Witte at Kismet Trace farm. Photo by Thomas Campbell.

Witte said, “Now we have the opportunity to treat this as a conventional crop, and I think as we move forward, you’ll see more investment come in.”

She said they planted 30 acres of the 400-acre farm in late July and had a limited harvest. They sold “about 500,000 seedlings,” in the spring and “at the last minute I said we have to have a crop. We had a couple hundred thousand plants that we put in the ground.”

“We have over a million dollars invested in this,” Browning said. They breed their own seeds to control the plants’ genetics and, after this season, plan to process CBD oil and manufacture CBD products, she said.

Asked about the retail price of CBD products, Browning explained that the price they get for their crop is less than half what it was two years ago, “and so the retail prices will catch up sooner or later.”

O’Dea, who owns one of two hemp testing labs in New Mexico, explained the new regulations require testing labs to be DEA certified but they must be state certified first. She said it would protect the labs if they received crop samples with high levels of THC, making it marijuana. Not all states have such a certification process, but New Mexico does, O’Dea said.

If tested crop samples indicate a high THC level, the entire crop must be destroyed, according to Witte.

O’Dea said the presence of male plants is problematic for CBD producers since it is found only in the female flower and fertilized females divert energy into seed production rather than CBD.

Kismet Trace produces “feminized seeds” or seeds that are treated to grow only female plants. “We had 300,000 plants out there and removed 30 males,” O’Dea said. The seeds are “a dollar each,” she said.

The new rules allow for states and tribes to implement their own rules and licensing requirements if they are not less stringent than federal rules.

Federal rules also require collecting and maintaining information about the land upon which hemp is grown.

Final rules are scheduled to be issued Nov.1, 2021, and the USDA is seeking public input on the new rules until Dec. 30, 2019.

Comments may be submitted via regulations.gov.

For more information, contact Bill Richmond, Chief, U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program, at 202-720-2491 or william.richmond@usda.gov.

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