Proposed bill would hit reset button for hemp in beleaguered Nebraska

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Nebraska hemp stakeholders are hoping for passage of a bill that would align the state’s hemp program with federal rules, suggesting the changes could revive the fortunes of the crop after most farmers fled hemp over the last few years.

The measure would increase the THC “negligence threshold” from 0.5% to 1.0%, allowing for the remediation of crops that go over the 0.3% limit for hemp, and loosen testing and harvesting restrictions. It would also increase the harvest window from 15 to 30 days, allow more options for the destruction of hemp crops that exceed acceptable THC levels, and put the Nebraska Hemp Commission on an annual meeting schedule instead of quarterly.

Massive flight from hemp

Nebraska farmers grew just 260 acres of hemp in 2021, according to the National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS), part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That’s down massively after the state recorded 4,609 acres of licensed hemp cultivation in 2019, and 2,602 acres in 2020, according to USDA figures. Meanwhile, the number of licensed growers, which peaked at 84 in 2019-2020, is down to 22, according to state agriculture statistics.

The hemp crash in Nebraska, as in other states, comes amid the drastically diminished fortunes of the CBD sector, where demand did not reach inflated expectations and oversupply caused prices to plunge by as much as 90% over the past three years.

Backed by ag director

Sherry Vinton, Director of the Department of Agriculture, has testified in support of the bill, which she said is similar to a measure debated last year but not passed, and includes a provision that allows the state to adjust its rules as the federal Farm Bill is updated every five years. The next Farm Bill is being negotiated and will be floated late this year.

Another hemp bill proposed by State Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, would eliminate the stand-alone Nebraska Hemp Commission and instead create the Nebraska Hemp Advisory Board under the oversight of the Department of Agriculture.

John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, said his organization backs both measures.

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