Ranking Member Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, today released the following opening statement at the hearing titled Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill.

Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing today, and welcome to our witnesses.

The 2018 Farm Bill includes many new opportunities that strengthen the diversity of American agriculture. We know something about that in Michigan, where we grow a wider variety of crops than any other state but one.

One of the most anticipated opportunities we included in the Farm Bill is the newly legalized production of hemp.

This exciting new opportunity is actually part of a great American tradition. George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson all grew hemp. During World War II, the USDA encouraged farmers to grow hemp in order to produce ropes for the U.S. Navy.

Michigan’s own Henry Ford saw great potential in hemp and experimented with using it in bio-based manufacturing. In fact, hemp used to be so prevalent in my state, they say you would see it growing on the side of the road while driving down Interstate 94 in Southeast Michigan.

This new old crop is creating exciting opportunities for farmers and the greater supply chain.

Hemp products are already popular in the U.S. marketplace. Nationally it is estimated that U.S. hemp retail sales are at more than $700 million annually, and this market is expected to grow at a 10% to 20% rate.

According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture, more than 30,000 acres have been registered for hemp production. Over 700 growers and processors have received a license to produce hemp and derived products.

Michigan farmers can cultivate hemp seeds to make new food products with whole hemp seeds, seed protein, and hemp seed oil. Innovators are looking at ways to use industrial hemp in biomanufacturing. There is exciting potential to create Michigan-made products like biodegradable water bottles, construction materials, clothing, and even cement to improve our roads.

Because hemp is a new crop in Michigan, more research is needed to provide information to producers on the right soils and seeds, pest management techniques, and other best practices. In order to support growers and processors, we need to conduct aggressive research.

Just last week, this committee discussed the concerning loss of researchers at the Agriculture Department, driven by the relocation of two USDA research agencies. I mentioned that the USDA is losing irreplaceable expertise, including one of the nation’s leading experts on hemp. Instead of throwing away knowledge, the Department should be doing everything it can to continue important work that will help our farmers be successful.

In addition to research, farmers need access to adequate financing to cover the high cost of seeds and new equipment. It is also critical that entrepreneurs have capital to build the infrastructure needed to process hemp, which would create exciting new business opportunities in rural communities.

We also need to ensure that these new opportunities in hemp production are fair and equitable for all farmers. Given the USDA’s troubling history of discrimination, the Department must be proactive to ensure socially-disadvantaged farmers have the same opportunity to get a license to grow hemp. It’s also critical that there is fair testing and enforcement of harvested hemp across the board. 

With any change, there are always questions that need to be addressed.  There are still many outstanding federal and local issues related to CBD oil, risk management tools, and testing methods for harvested hemp crops.

I look forward to hearing from our panels of experts to explore some of those questions and learn more about the implementation of these important provisions.

Thank you.