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Commentary: Farm bill sparks more interest in hemp

Editor's note: The following was part of Rep. Paul Anderson's weekly newsletter.

By Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck

After a round of member introductions, committees in the Minnesota House are getting updated by the various departments in state government as to their status. Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture Andrea Vaubel last Thursday (Jan. 17) told members of the Ag. Committee how the new farm bill just passed by Congress could impact Minnesota farmers. She described the 12 different titles in the $867 billion piece of legislation, which directs 80 percent of its total funding to nutrition programs.

Of note is a long-awaited increase in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres. The ceiling has been increased to 27 million acres, up from its current level of 24 million. In addition, payment on those new acres will be reduced somewhat, with amounts based on county average crop rental rates. There was discussion in our committee about the state adding to those payment rates, to bring them more in line with payments in the old farm bill. I would need to study that proposal more closely before supporting it because of criticism of the old payment rates. In certain areas, especially to our south, CRP payment rates were higher than the going rate paid by farmers for cropland. It was thought by some that those higher CRP rates took good farmland out of production and made it difficult for beginning farmers to rent land to start farming.

Also of interest in the new farm bill is language pertaining to industrial hemp. Related to marijuana and on the list of dangerous drugs put forth by the federal government, hemp has been removed from that list and appears to have a much clearer path to becoming a crop raised by farmers once again. It had been grown experimentally in the past few years, and had been tried by a few Minnesota farmers. Officials at the ag department are seeing more interest in the crop as a result of language in the new farm bill. There were 40 applications to grow industrial hemp in 2018, and already there are 110 for the upcoming year.

Another major stumbling block to widespread growth and processing of industrial hemp had been the federal ban on using our banking system to finance such operations. Up to this point, all transactions had to be done on a cash basis and getting loans was not allowed. With the new farm bill, these restrictions have been removed.