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Are Hemp Farmers in Massachusetts Going to Market?

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2019 October Issue Newsletter

By Doug Cook, NOFA/Mass Education Events Coordinator

*This article was revised on 10/7/19 at 4pm.  A previous version incorrectly indicated that The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and state Department of Public Health released new guidelines that prohibit the sale of any product containing CBD oils derived from hemp.  The correction has been made to indicate that The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and state Department of Public Health released new guidelines that prohibit the sale of whole hemp flower.

Interested in growing hemp?  Check out our upcoming event: Hemp Cultivation: Seed to Salve on October 19, 2019 in Springfield, MA.

Hemp cultivation in Massachusetts is still in its infancy; many entrepreneurs and farmers are looking for a way to profit from this niche crop. The prospects for generating on-farm products diminished following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration statement in June of this year that CBD cannot be added to food or dietary supplements. The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and state Department of Public Health released new guidelines that also prohibit the sale of whole hemp flower. Many farmers are now wondering if their plans to add new revenue streams through value-added products will ever come to fruition. 

Marty Dagoberto, NOFA/Mass Policy Director, and other Massachusetts hemp advocates, are working to improve the hemp laws and regulations in Massachusetts. “We need all proponents of a hemp economy in Massachusetts to take action right now in support of the artisanal hemp market,” Dagoberto remarked. “Governor Baker’s prohibition on the sale of whole hemp flower and any food infused with hemp oil greatly threatens this nascent economy,” he added. NOFA/Mass has partnered with the Northeast Sustainable Hemp Association to support a legislative solution to the Governor’s hemp ban, which was announced in the middle of the first big growing season, this past June. For more information and to send a message to legislators, please visit http://bit.ly/MAhemp2019

Cultivation practices for hemp vary depending on the desired crop, as do the varieties used in each case. When hemp is grown to be processed into textiles and building materials, it is planted at very at high density and grows tall single stalks. A slightly lower planting density is preferable for a grain crop, the seeds often being pressed for hemp seed oil and meal.  The “trees” we more often see being planted with plenty of space to grow allows for maximum flower production, which of course means more of those precious cannabinoids (including CBD). Farm crafted cannabinoid-infused products are what many small-scale and niche New England hemp growers hope to be able to market.  

The U.S. FDA is responsible for creating new regulations around CBD sales and we expect to see them rolled out slowly over the next several years.  Currently, many areas of the industry are working to catch the rising wave of hemp interest across the country. The demand for hemp seed and transplants is high, and specialized varieties of hemp are currently being developed specifically for low THC and high CBD strains.  

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources has been working with cultivators and processors now for over a year and continues to see an increase in area being registered for hemp cultivation. Strict testing is required to ensure that THC levels are below the U.S. FDA mandated 0.3% threshold. Anything over that limit will be classified as illegal and consequently destroyed.  Should you have any questions please contact the Department’s Hemp Program or visit their website: Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Hemp Program.

In our effort to help growers learn as much about hemp and the regulations in MA as possible, we are offering another seminar, Hemp Cultivation: Seed to Salve, on October 19th, from 10am to 5pm at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, MA.  Heather Darby, who is the lead agronomist on the UVM Industrial Hemp Research Program, will present and answer questions about broad acre cultivation of hemp in our region.  Keith Morris, of Willow Crossing Farm in VT, will focus on how to diversify with hemp and grow for CBD production, and methods of crafting high-quality CBD infused products. Sarah Grubin, MDAR’s Hemp Program Coordinator, will provide a thorough overview of the Massachusetts state regulations and permitting process.  The event will conclude with a panel discussion between Marty Dagoberto, NOFA/Mass Policy Director, and other local activists about current advocacy to improve the hemp laws and regulations in Massachusetts and ways to take action.

Pre-registration is encouraged, cost is $90-$125.  Full scholarships to this event are available for NOFA/Mass members.  Take advantage of full scholarships on all NOFA/Mass events by joining NOFA/Mass for as low as $25/ year. Membership supports our legislative efforts, food access program, podcast, webinars, and other free educational materials for our mission-driven work.  For more information and to register visit the NOFA/Mass events page, www.nofamass.org/events or email Doug Cook, doug@nofamass.org.

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