Tucked away in the thousands of pages of the Farm Bill is a provision that affects the 11 states that have legalized the growing of hemp. Vermont is part of this group.
Vermont’s law was passed last year, but the ongoing opposition of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency has had a chilling effect on the cultivation of hemp in the state.
The DEA considers hemp to be a form of marijuana. But backers of hemp point out that it has very low levels of the chemicals that make marijuana an intoxicant. And they argue that hemp should not be illegal. The new Farm Bill supports their position.
Under the legislation, educational institutions like the University of Vermont can conduct field trials to determine the best variety of hemp for weather conditions in Vermont.
Heather Darby, an agronomist at UVM, says she’s excited about this project.
“Now we have the backing from the Farm Bill in one part of the federal government and also the state,” said Darby. “So the doors are opening up. There obviously are still some barriers and challenges to making all this happen.”
Darby says she would feel more comfortable if the DEA would sign off on the project.
“We’re sort of working through that to make sure we have a strong go ahead from the federal government not just sort of a soft one, I guess,” said Darby. “Because we don’t want to be caught with some significant liability and issues as well if not everyone supports this.”
Darby says another challenge will be getting hemp seeds for the trial.
“We usually tend to have material transfer agreements and seed transfer agreements, you know, between countries between universities etc.,” said Darby. “So I feel like a university has better chance to be able to secure some seed for testing versus a farm being able to secure seed right now for commercial planting.”
Robb Kidd is the hemp coordinator at Rural Vermont, a group that strongly supports the growing of hemp in the state.
“For Vermont farmers, we see this as an additional economic benefit for the farmers who can add a product there is a high demand for,” said Kidd. “You can easily make bio fuels; you can make hemp seed oils, you can make bedding for your livestock.”
And Kidd says there are also some practical uses for hemp.
“Even just a hot bed issue in Vermont, riparian buffer zones,” said Kidd. “So with the quick growing you can actually have a little buffer crop that doesn’t require a pesticide.”
If all goes well, it’s possible that UVM will be able to launch its hemp trials sometime this summer.