By Kay Whatley, Editor
North Carolina farmers interested in growing industrial hemp may be planting soon. The state’s Industrial Hemp Commission, formed late last year, released the first rules in early 2017.
The new rules will require industrial hemp growers to be monitored by state universities; however, there is potential to have seed in the ground this year. Finally. Again, after decades of restriction.
Who can grow? One of the biggest restrictions is that a grower must be ” a bona fide farmer” with income tax evidence to show. There are other grower requirements that may keep small scale, home growers out of the running, which this article describes.
The purpose of this article is to clarify the rules and application process for farms or individuals interested in growing, and let ineligible people and companies know of state limitations. Clarification is made possible with help from the NC Industrial Hemp Association (NCIHA) — not to be confused with the official NC Industrial Hemp Commission (Commission) — as the rules are a little confusing. A basic overview of the rules follows, in the order that they appear in the official Rules document.
The first section of the industrial hemp rules is Approved Seed for Planting. There are restrictions on seed or transplants; they must be purchased (each year) or harvested by growers during processing, certified seed must be purchased from approved sources, and THC level has to be analyzed and come up less than 3/10 of 1 percent by dry weight.
It is worth noting that initially the Commission considered limiting seed to only allow purchases from other countries — in part due to federal restrictions on transporting hemp seed across state lines. Due to the work of the NCIHA, however, the Commission augmented the rules to allow certified seed from other US states to be purchased by NC growers. Currently, however, the US DEA restricts interstate transport of industrial hemp seed. The Commission, NCIHA, and others are working toward a resolution. Some farmers have seed that was stopped in transport, and are hoping for eventual DEA release.
Short version: Don’t just drive to Colorado and grab seed to start a 2017 crop. Follow the rules to get approved/certified seed.
After the first season, seed or transplants may be offered for sale in NC as long as they are certified for varietal purity and overseen by the North Carolina Crop Improvement Association (NCCIA). The average seed company or grower cannot just produce and sell; plan for oversight and paperwork. Co-op distribution will be allowed, but also overseen and documented.
For next season, “volunteer” plants will be controlled by the Rules. Any feral plant coming up on its own will have to be destroyed. No freebies. This rule seems to be in place to ensure that varietal purity, and ensure all plants come from certified, tested seed. Moving forward, NC farmers will also be allowed to use seed that they harvest from their own crops to plant the following year, as long as their seed is properly tested and approved.
That THC level is strict, ensuring that industrial hemp doesn’t exceed federal drug levels. Growers should plan their time to take samples, or be prepared to welcome “authorities” onto their farms to do sampling — this approval is built into the application for license (which this article covers below). They have leave to come into your field, greenhouse, or anywhere you are growing industrial hemp. Growers are responsible for costs related to laboratory testing; include that in the budget.
After the lab testing, crops with THC levels at allowable levels may be harvested, sold, and processed. If the THC level is higher than that 0.3%, a re-test is optional; the rules for how the crop may be used can change — possibly restricting food-use or allowing use as fiber. Destruction of higher THC crops, and other area’s harvests mixed with them, may be required.
First things first, though. Submitting an application to receive a license happens first; the next part of the Rules covers licensing. Before seed sourcing or crop testing comes applying for a license to grow industrial hemp in NC. An application is available from this Commission webpage. The application is a four-page PDF each potential grower must submit. Applying for a license is free; however, if you are approved then expect to pay an initial $250 fee, an annual fee of $250-$500 (depending on acreage), plus a fee-per-acre for fields or fee-per-foot for greenhouses.
Two types of licenses are outlined in the state’s Rules.
- The first license type is for a university or government agency to grow for Research Only. The legislature only specified North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University in the official Article on industrial hemp, though the Commission has been approached regarding other universities.
- The second license type is for a university, government agency or “public entity” — farm, company, or individual — to grow for Research With Intent to Market. Yes, even growing to sell requires a research component. This does not mean the grower has to be with a university, but it does mean that they have to perform research and allow their data to be compiled by a university. This is part of the application. When applying, be prepared to check-mark boxes for appropriate research plans, and choose you want a one-year or three-year license.
When applying for a license, planting area, GPS coordinates, and seed certification must be specified. Planned use for harvested crop is also on the application with these choices: Seed, Fiber, Hurd, or Cannabinoids (not including THC). Tentative purchasers must be listed, so be sure someone is lined up to potentially purchase the harvest.
Applications also must confirm that they have made [taxable] income from farming in past years — an applicant has to be “a bona fide farmer” (the form uses those words). The application includes tax-filing type, along with details on where a harvest will be stored, sampling access in storage, record keeping confirmation, and grower personal/company details.
So if you want to grow industrial hemp, or seed, or participate in NC’s industrial hemp industry, and can fit the criteria from seed-to-harvest, then fill out the application and submit it for review. Applications are to be accepted year-round. They are to be reviewed during Commission meetings, which will approve/deny. Fees are not due until approval. It is worth nothing that the way the rules are written, licenses can be revoked, without refund of fees, based upon misconduct or misrepresentation.
At the end of the season, reporting continues with information on harvest and its distribution. More paperwork to add to the growing plan, and possibly harvest testing-related costs.
The complete set of “temporary rules” released by the months-young Commission may be viewed in document “02 NCAC 62 .0101-.0109” on the Rules webpage. This article hits the high points; it’s good to read them directly and avoid surprises.
Because it is new, expect rules to be revised/added by the Commission as the first industrial hemp growing season progresses.
Potential applicants who still have questions may contact the Commission’s Seed and Fertilizer Field Supervisor, Meghan Roche, at 919.707.3735 or via email.
NC Industrial Hemp Links
- Official North Carolina Industrial Hemp Pilot Program webpage with links to rules, meeting notices, and more — www.ncagr.gov/hemp — on the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) website. (Those interested in growing may also benefit from attending a Commission meeting.)
- North Carolina Industrial Hemp Association (NCIHA) is an independent organization for those interested in growing industrial hemp. It is a member-based organization with a fee to join, offering members access to the flow of information, events, and strength in numbers. NCIHA is run by a Board and voting members. Their website is ncindhemp.org, or call 888.530.6731.
- Article 50E overview of industrial hemp law from the NC legislature website (PDF file) — www.ncleg.net/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/PDF/ByArticle/Chapter_106/Article_50E.pdf
See our 2016 article on NC industrial hemp history, re-legalization, farming, and processing.
Thank you to representatives of the NCIHA for their review and assistance with this article.
The photos below show just a few potential uses of industrial hemp once harvesting can happen in North Carolina.