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Ohio's Hemp Rules May Create Barrier For Small Farmers

Ty Higgins
Ohio Farm Bureau

The proposed licensing fees and planting minimums for hemp production in Ohio could create cost barriers that exclude smaller growers, farmers and industry groups said.

Rules proposed by the Ohio Department of Agriculture for the newly legalized crop would require at least 1,000 hemp plants be grown on at least a quarter acre (.10 hectare) of land, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

Ohio’s rules were devised after a review of hemp programs in other states, assessing what worked and what didn’t, said David Miran, executive director of the department’s hemp program.

Ohio legalized hemp production earlier this year, and the state has no market yet. This means aspiring hemp growers are already taking a risk, said Andy Hupp, who grows organic vegetables on two acres in Groveport and looks for high value crops to grow on small plots.

The $500 license fee and an investment in a minimum of 1,000 plants creates a “high entry barrier” for hemp production, he said.

“We would love to get our foot in the door, start learning about how to produce the crop successfully,” said Hupp.

Miran said the state wants hemp grown for commercial production only and the planting minimum limits the burden on police who would have difficulty distinguishing a rash of backyard hemp patches from marijuana — which is illegal but looks similar.

The proposed rules do give wiggle room for farmers with slightly less than a quarter acre or those who plant slightly less than 1,000 plants, Miran said.

Ohio Hemp Association President Jen Lynch said that overall she thinks the rules are solid, but the $500 application fee, which is required for each place a farmer grows the crop, is cost prohibitive for some.

“Is that something that’s going to make or break the industry? Absolutely not,” Lynch said, “But that was something we had hoped they would give a second look to.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture demands states know the location of every hemp plant, and licensing fees will help pay for required inspections, Miran said.

“We’re just trying to break even,” he added.

The farming community also hoped the state would give more leeway on the .3% THC threshold that separates hemp from marijuana under state law.

THC is the compound that gives pot its high, and the USDA establishes threshold regulations.

Because hemp generates more THC as the crop ages, growers could be forced to harvest their crop before it has matured to stay under the legal limit, said Julie Doran, founder of the Ohio Hemp Farmers Cooperative.

Troy Erickson, an entrepreneur who plans to harvest hemp in Hardin County, said passing the threshold could lead to having to destroy a whole crop.

The proposed rules are expected to be finalized in January and are unlikely to change before then, officials said.