State: Oversight needed for industrial hemp industry – Times Herald-Record

State: Oversight needed for industrial hemp industry - Times Herald-Record

Regulatory oversight of New York’s progressive industrial hemp program has failed to keep pace with the associated production spurt, a comptroller’s audit concluded.

Crop testing is scattershot; grower applications are approved even if they are incomplete; and the program is rife with shoddy records, concludes a 14-page report issued Monday by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office.

“The (state Department of Agriculture & Markets) likely does not have all the information it needs to effectively monitor who was harvesting plants,” the audit found.

Consequently, the state agency is often unable to determine if the harvested hemp meets the 0.3 percent limit on the psychoactive element in the plant that enables the crop to be classified as “industrial hemp,” escaping the federal controlled substance law.

State agriculture inspectors tested 57 percent of the growers to assure THC levels were below limits in 2018, auditors found.

When a crop was discovered to be over the limit, the department failed to inspect other growers using the same seed lot, the report said.

“The department’s incomplete hard copy files and tracking spreadsheets made it difficult to assess whether the department sampled all high-risk growers, specifically those harvesting hemp for CBD,” the report said.

Staffing issues blamed

Agriculture & Markets representatives generally agreed with the comptroller’s conclusions, promising to upgrade monitoring and improve record-keeping. The department blamed the lapses on a lack of manpower and competing demands on the staff.

“A new risk assessment is being developed to assist with allocating staff resources, monitoring requirements and practices, and identifying patterns and outliers,” wrote Jen McCormick, first deputy commissioner of Ag & Markets.

The report comes as the the state industrial hemp program enters its fifth year, with growing and processing expanding at a rapid clip. Approved New York hemp growers more than doubled to 419 between 2018 and 2019, McCormick noted, putting strains on department resources.

“This thing took off the way none of us anticipated,” said the lawmaker who has been spearheading New York’s embrace of hemp, Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell, Broome County.

Ag & Markets could get some relief in its oversight responsibilities this coming year.

The state’s Department of Health will be charged with reviewing the processing of the industrial hemp segment devoted to cannabinol, including retail licensing. Ag & Markets will retain control of the portion of the crop destined for fiber and grain uses and grower monitoring.

Hemp growing expands

Industrial hemp uses are varied. Plant fibers can be used for new and lighter forms of building and insulation material, and livestock bedding. Hemp-derived oils can be used in salad dressings, nutritional supplements, beauty products and animal feed. Some even speculate the product can be used in new pharmacological products to treat illnesses, but more research needs to be done.

Fueling the growth among farmers is the potential for a lucrative payday from the crop, as much as $20,000 an acre or more for high quality hemp used in the production of cannabinol, the substance now marketed in several forms as a remedy for several maladies, though scientific proof of the effectiveness is lacking.

Hemp grown for fiber and grain commands a lower price, but demand for the product is expected to increase as uses expand into bioplastics, fabrics, insulation and biofuel, among other uses.

New York, Kentucky and North Carolina have been in the forefront in developing industrial hemp as a crop alternative for hard-pressed farmers looking for a powerful new revenue stream. For New York, it is an appeal for the dairy farmer who has been impacted by low milk prices. In North Carolina and Kentucky, it has become an option for tobacco farmers who have seen demand for their crop decline.

Passage of the new farm bill in late 2018 lifted the restrictions on low-THC hemp by removing it from the federal list of controlled substances, bringing about a new wave of interest in the crop.

More than 90 hemp processors are licensed in the state.

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