Hurdles still remain for rooting North Florida’s hemp industry

The first year of Florida’s hemp industry was one of trial and error on the ground, but the projections that it will become a green boom could mean a shift in the Panhandle’s agricultural scene.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said the first 8 months of cultivation since the state developed its program is only expected to get larger heading into 2021.

This year, the state approved 22,000 acres for hemp – the same acreage as tomatoes, watermelon and snap peas, and double the production of strawberries – but in the next 3-5 years it could balloon to 300,000 acres, or half of the land used to grow Florida citrus.

With tourism down in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic and agricultural losses projected at $500 million, hemp could be revolutionary for the state’s economy.

That’s coming as “our economy needs it most, due to COVID-19,” she said during a meeting of Enterprise Florida in early December.

“We are on the verge of a green industrial revolution here in the state of Florida with potential of billions of dollars in economic impact, tens of thousands of new jobs and potential new products in the marketplace,” she added.

Estimates put the total economic output in the first year somewhere around $500 million and more than $17 million in tax revenue.

Fried said hemp is being used in roads and houses are being built already using “hempcrete.” It’s an alternative to plastics and is used in the health and wellness industries.

With the going price for harvested hemp projected to be around $5,250 per acre, Fried said she expected acreage and sales to continue to grow.

North Florida is uniquely positioned to become a hemp fiber mecca with eager farmers and plenty of agricultural land. The more than a dozen counties in the region, from Levy to Gulf counties, represent roughly 2,125 acres in cultivation permits issued by the state.

Hemp has become a top-of-the-funnel issue for the Apalachee Regional Planning Council (ARPC), which is eying it as a possible way for silviculture, or tree farmers, to rebound from the devastation that leveled thousands of acres of pine trees and to attract a new industry.

ARPC represents nine counties from Jefferson west to Gulf County.

Jackson County Commission Chairman and ARPC executive committee treasurer Jim Peacock said there is a lot of interest in hemp as a rotational crop in his part of the state, about an hour west of Tallahassee.

As much as 68% of the economy in that rural county is rooted in agriculture with most farmers growing peanuts, cotton, soybeans and corn. But the return on investment leaves farmers working harder to make their crops earn money.

“If we can come up with a crop that is profitable for them in their rotation, it would be a great thing and keep the farmer going,” Peacock said. “If they can make $1,000 an acre (in a harvest), they would be happy. They have to work hard to get close to that with peanuts and cotton.”

Peacock said the county is open to offering free land to a processor, a handful of which have already approached the county about locating there – noting that the state transferred the Dozier School property over to the county in 2018 – but until planting starts and a processor arrives, the hemp industry may not take off.

He said there are a lot of farmers lined up ready to start planting but there is some hesitancy because of two issues:

  • A requirement that the plants test lower than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive chemical that produces a high in hemp’s cousin marijuana, or be destroyed.
  • The lack of a nearby processing facility where the fibers can be made into industrial products.

He proposed some mechanism that would funnel hemp that tests above the regulation to go to industrial uses instead of to consumers in the form of CBD products.

“We’ve got the land; we’ve got people that could plant 1,000 acres, but they don’t want to put the money and time into it until we get the issue of THC resolved,” Peacock said.

He added: “I don’t see why you couldn’t do it because who is going to eat a concrete block?” referring to hempcrete.

Jeff Sharkey, a Tallahassee-based lobbyist and executive director of the Florida Hemp Association, said there was an oversaturation in the national hemp market in 2019 after Congress decriminalized hemp the previous year.

Sharkey was an organizer of the 850 Hemp Summit last year that looked to plot a path forward for the industry in North Florida.

Now that the market has somewhat stabilized, the push this year was to find strains that grew well in Florida and remained below the THC limits so they would be appealing to growers and their investment in a crop.

It caused some farmers not to plant out the full acreage they were approved for.

“Most people said, ‘let me test this out. I’ve got a permit for 10 acres but I’m only going to grow an acre or two and see how it goes,’ which is smart,” he said. “That was part of the message from the 850 Summit: This is new, it’s going to take a while to grow and mature.”

With the industry’s boom, Sharkey said, came a number of out-of-state seed brokers who provided little oversight and falsely claimed their seeds were certified by the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies, which certifies agricultural seeds of all types.

Both Florida A&M University and the University of Florida have launched seed genetics programs where they look to find the right strains for the Sunshine State that are resistant to pests and enjoy the sandy soil.

That includes a focus on getting a certifiable seed stock, part of a push from state lawmakers like former Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, and Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, who worked through the rulemaking process.

“There’s been a lot of disappointing results from seeds,” Sharkey said. “Out of 24 seeds grown with FAMU, only four were approved.”

Seeds go for about $1 a piece and the hope is that more people will look to hemp for fiber instead of just the CBD market, where the perception is that there is a huge demand. Currently, no one in Florida is growing hemp for fiber, Sharkey said.

“The process for taking hemp fiber is very different and expensive and the extraction processing technology is hard to come by,” he said. “That is where a lot of people believe Florida’s competitive edge may be: growing for fiber.”

A virtual conference is planned for February to recount the first year of Florida’s hemp market and plan for the future.

Incoming ARPC Chairwoman and Leon County Commissioner Kristin Dozier said the North Florida industrial hemp market did not get the traction in 2020 anticipated during the 850 Hemp Summit last year.

The hesitancy of insurance and banking markets to get involved with hemp or back hemp farmers, a residual connection to marijuana remaining a scheduled drug at the federal level, remain hurdles to be overcome.

But with more focus on the industry in Florida, this may be the year when all the pieces come together, she said.

The major issue is attracting a processor and finding out what markets exist to make it viable for local farmers to grow and sell.

“Even without COVID, this would have been a year of learning and continued research on what types of seeds would grow in our region and some of these other regulatory issues that pose an issue for our farmers,” she said.

“The response from people throughout North Florida was incredible and we want to keep our focus on this issue. It is an industry that can work well in North Florida with our existing agriculture and existing communities.”

The 2021 Florida Virtual Hemp Conference will be held Monday, Feb. 22.

Content from:

Fine In the Field – December 2020

Fine in the Field - a column by author and hemp farmer Doug Fine

December, 2020: Announcing The Game Seven Line-up For Humanity: Gregor Mendel, Terroir, And Many Small Farms Vs. Gene Markers, Poor Soil, and More Farmer Serfdom

Each year at the peak of summer my sons and I find ourselves out in the hemp field, clutching baby toothbrushes and delicately spreading sticky grains of pollen on our plants’ flowers. Sometimes we have to stretch skyward to reach a cola‘s corona (that’s the crown of the peak flower). Often we’re sharing the plants with both honeybees and native bees (both varieties especially love the male flowers, which I mention for those who recognize pollinators’ role in our species survival). It is, for all species, a fragrant job.

Becoming a human pollinator requires no pre-requisite skillset except for an unflagging desire for one’s own family to be healthy and for humanity to survive. That’s not just a personal philosophy; it’s a professional one. It results in the highest quality hemp. And it provides plants and plant-derived products that, if the many small farmers who craft them can effectively educate customers, win hands down in the marketplace. Visualize #DoneWithMcCrap as a movement.

Out in the garden with our brushes, the only large-scale crap we encounter is organic goat poop. Although we’re taking an active role in the field, we’re aware that the plants know what to do without our help. We’re chill with them living as they please, in their evidently thriving neighborhood comprised of the local soil microbes, our regional pollinators and the rest of the multi-species family on the Funky Butte Ranch here in the high desert.

We’re just trying to gently nudge the hemp toward producing, each season, a few more of the characteristics we would like to harvest for our own superfood diet, health-maintenance program, and hempcrete porch repair. Eventually, when policy catches up, we’d love to get them to other farmers who may also enjoy those characteristics in their harvests.

This is breeding, Gregor Mendel style. It (buzzing like a bumblebee with the people you love most) is also a really fun activity on a toasty summer morning. It’s how farming has been done for 8,000 years. It’s why we have carrots, pears and avocados that taste the way they do, and it’s why I recommend all of us get the food we don’t personally raise, not just our hemp, from our region’s organic farmers.

In this frame of mind, with this farming and entrepreneurial philosophy, it was strange to come inside one day over the summer, hop on a call with some university folk interested in these very genetics on which we’ve been “working,” and learn that some academics who are not farmers are, sigh, again attempting to create genetic markers to tell us whether our hemp is, um, hemp.

Let me tell you how interested I am in that process (I won’t call it a development): not at all. Repeat memo to academia and to everyone who hasn’t yet received versions 1 through 42, nor looked out their window lately and noticed climate change and obesity and diabetes epidemics: we’re not doing agriculture like that anymore. Not the top-shelf, regenerative craft hemp farmer/entrepreneurs who comprise the heart of the new industry, anyway.

The reason? This mode of lab dictated genetics would result in inferior hemp and health. What we regenerative farmers aim for, because we are confident it is the best mode for both quality and farming communities (not to mention soil and wider human health) is a broad and diverse array of regional genetics, developed and owned by farmers.

Terroir is the term for this important marketplace variety that we see in other high-value crops like wine and in farm-based delicacies such as top-shelf cheese. If you’re not already on the support-your-region’s-regenerative-hemp-enterprises-even-if-it-means-an-extra-step-beyond-the-supermarket-or-box-store train, I’ve got some good news for your taste buds and your body’s built-in, ready-to-go endocannabinoid system: get ready for vintage, top-shelf hemp. We’re talking entire sections of stores filled with all parts of the plant – even entire stores. It’s already happening. I can get regional hemp at my local food co-op in New Mexico, for instance.

At the supermarket, one might expect every Wheat Thin to look just like every other Wheat Thin. But in our already industry-leading craft hemp market, customers are, as we speak, looking for varietals that will vary from year to year and from region to region. These are the products to bring to a wedding dinner, and to feed your family for maximum bioavailability. And the niche is going to help revive rural communities worldwide.

Whenever I get to this point, I always think of something that South Carolina farmer Nat Bradford, scion to one of the oldest watermelon growing families in the United States, told me (he also grows okra and hemp): “When my great-great-grandparents were breeding their favorite varieties a hundred and fifty years ago, they didn’t select based on sweetness spectrometer analysis or focus groups. They sliced up melons and choose the ones that tasted best to them.”

Your hemp, in other words, couldn’t be grown anywhere else. A Vermont hemp harvest will taste different from a New Mexican or Ghanaian hemp product. You wouldn’t want a uniform taste in every variety of Sonoma wine. In American Hemp Farmer, Chad Rosen of Victory Hemp Foods told me that one of his challenges and pleasures as a superfood purveyor is that there isn’t yet any firm hemp taste profile. My take is, what an opportunity! What an advantage for independent purveyors! Vive la difference is one of the rallying cries for digital age farmer success — in any crop.

As every farmer should, I believe that my own seeds rock – they serve up a distinct and magnificent nutty taste explosion that conjures 1970s Hawaiian V-8 commercials. I love our harvest’s nutritive profile as well – the seed meal had north of thirty percent protein when we tested it. Just as beautiful to me is this reality: one state over, one county over, even one valley over, a farming family’s taste and nutritive profiles, building on their own soil neighborhood’s microbial brew, will have its own set of characteristics.

This is, of course, not a breaking news bulletin for farmers. It would be a winemaker’s most unimaginable nightmare, for instance, to have anyone, inside or outside of a lab, tell her what grape genetics are best for her soil. The best vintners (and okra farmers and hemp farmers) work on this, year in and year out, in their specific microclimate and soil, for decades. It is their primary work project. It is their IP, their children’s health care plan. Mine, too.

The takeaway here is that the previous century of agriculture has been an aberration that has impoverished farmers, soil and human health. We early modern regenerative hemp farmers are prepared to reverse this, with pleasure. With tiny pollinating brushes, alongside the bees. Which is to say, we will develop our own genetics, unhindered, thank you very much.

Sorry to cut the herbicides, the shipped-in nutrients, and the academics out of the process, but that last crew has options: you can bring top-shelf farmer/breeders on as your bosses, or you’re free to research mass junk genetics of the kind that left us with tasteless, modern GMO wheat, pesticide-soaked corn syrup, and the resulting gut problems and obesity crises. That choice, though, we regenerative farmers humbly assert, lands firmly on the wrong side of history.

See, we farmers own our top-shelf seeds, and while most folks in general, including most academics, are honest, respectful folks, we’re wise to any attempts to co-op our genetics in the name of tenured “research.” This time the farmers are in charge. Academia and Wall Street, if and when involved in the regenerative agriculture renaissance, work for us. Make no mistake, thousands of farmers like myself aim to get the best genetics out widely and, to put it simply, feed the world. But many of us are doing it on our terms, with a sort of open source mentality. You can replant our seeds for your products (you bought them, they’re yours), but if you market the genetics, you pay a royalty.

As we have discussed in the past here in the Fine in the Field column, a farmer might get this initial reaction upon proposing a change in a professional relationship structure, farm economics or regulatory protocol: “But that’s not how the agriculture system has been done lately.” To this, the farmer might reply, “How’s that been working out for the planet’s farmers and soil?”

Remember, we have a Farm Aid, not a Hedge Fund Aid or a Tenured Departmental Head Aid. As Bill Althouse, cofounder of the Fat Pig Society organic hemp cooperative in Fort Collins, Colorado is always reminding me (and not for the first time in this column), “Today’s farmers get about three cents of every retail dollar from their crops. Our goal is a hundred cents, less expenses.”

The rub, although I can’t believe I even have to state something this obvious, is, hemp farmers are the folks who, um, know hemp. As Michael Pollan put it in Botany of Desire and as I also seem to cite fairly often, “America’s cannabis/hemp farmers are the best gardeners of my generation.”

We encourage, for instance, the minute differences in terpenes, cannabinoids and flavonoids that your microbiome will provide in Iowa versus mine in New Mexico. In fact, our regenerative craft cannabis/hemp business plans explicitly call for these variations.

Make no mistake, a craft market is the future of cannabis/hemp. If we’re wise, regional, regenerative thinking is the future of the worldwide economy; hemp is just showing the way. Thanks for assisting us with this, but staying the heck out of what we grow. Unless, of course, you would like to join the large and increasing hemp team and become a regenerative farmer yourself. In that case, welcome aboard.

This latest attempt to bring hemp gene into the lab follows another cockamamie (and thankfully short-lived) one a decade ago where “researchers” thought they might inject a neon-y yellow gene marker into a hemp plant to show that it really was hemp – as opposed, one supposes, to turnips. Yum: fluorescent hemp. That one was quickly called off, thankfully. And the latest efforts should be ignored as well. Among the many additional reasons for this is that we farmers are rapidly changing the ludicrous and recent definition of what hemp is. We don’t need chemists or technicians to help us define hemp. We need them to buy our hemp harvests and tell their friends.

The win-win, if you haven’t heard, is saving humanity: cultivating regenerative hemp outdoors, under the sun and in native soil is one of the best single actions anyone can take to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change. A growing body of research suggests that each cubic inch of topsoil we restore of the world’s farmland sequesters up to three billion tons of carbon annually.

With that as a motivation you can perhaps see why thousands of farmers like me who are aboard the regenerative hemp train are not going to bow down for a second to placate folks looking backwards. If last century’s agricultural regulatory modes worked, if folks worldwide were getting healthier and carbon emissions were being reduced by, say 90%, then maybe we’d talk about continuing this model. You know, the one that treats farming families, when they are considered at all, like third class serfs, buried in a constant debt cycle.

As things stand, folks aren’t getting healthier and carbon emissions aren’t being rapidly reduced (though they were down 7 percent in the lockdown year of 2020), so our advice is to follow us regenerative farmers as we take charge once again. Or else retire and make room for practices that are going to allow for humanity’s successful emergence from its petrochemical phase.

In many ways we’re talking about an updated return to the successful period before “better living through chemistry.” It’s how the whole planet operated without supermarkets and stock exchanges. And a refocused economic leadership modus operandi can only do a better job than McAg has done. It’s Game Seven for us all. Bottom of the ninth.

This column is a bulletin for everyone steering into the hemp wormhole: as long as you’re aware that your business decisions might play a role in whether your grandchildren have a place to live, we’re on the same team. In particular, I hope folks who lean to the “entrepreneur” side of the farmer/entrepreneurial model remember that we’re all soil farmers now. And, since it was the disconnect between my reality in the field and a project in a lab that spurred this column, a special part of the dispatch goes to our friends and colleagues who have decided to make what you might call an old-school career in academia: if you’re in this category and are wondering, “OK, where exactly are we residing if we’re no longer living in the ‘better living through chemistry era’?,” here’s the update: we’re living in the “survival through soil building” era.

Too many of us who are caretaking soil have caught on to those minority of academics who are really in the funding and prestige game. We don’t care about departmental grant writing opportunities unless the end game is forward-looking and farmer-led. In other words, please don’t merely ask for our knowledge and seeds (AKA our IP), if the end game is intended to benefit primarily you or your institution. As the owners of our side and expertise, we farmers profit from the success of our work. An academic already gets a salary. And job security. Whether or not it hails on the crop.

The reason this discussion carries some urgency is that we’re talking about the whole grandkids-having-a-habitable-planet thing. Yours and mine. Just that. By way of proposing an alternative to the old way of doing farm research, in my earlier book Hemp Bound, I suggested a Digital Age Homesteading Act:

If I held the USDA purse strings (or its equivalent in any nation), I would direct tons of energy, human power, and funding toward a Digital Age Homesteading Act that incentivizes a surge in independent hemp production and other soil-building crops that provide healthy food. The idea fits seamlessly with all this talk of a Green New Deal. It also rebuilds rural communities while all the climate mitigating is under way.

I wasn’t going to write a column that touched on this latest gene marker stuff, which despite the modern-sounding test-tubing of a plant, is the ultimate in antiquated thinking: I mean, its messaging is basically, “Hey, let’s develop just a few varieties of official hemp, since monoculture has worked so well with corn and soy and human health.”

For one thing, no need to draw attention to this kind of nonsense. But my goal isn’t to censor it. My aim is to inspire us to ignore this kind of thinking so its ilk stops getting funding and goes away, like fluorescent hemp; like all bad ideas.

See, my main interest is enriching the regenerative farmers whose work is going to play a key role in extending the duration of our residence on Earth. To that end, I’m highlighting a situation to avoid: non-farmers trying to dictate to farmer/entrepreneurs what and how to grow.

Again reiterating that many academics I’ve met or worked with in the half-decade I’ve been cultivating hemp are honest, diligent and already open to the regenerative farming renaissance (indeed some, such as Charlotte Rosendahl of Sterling College in her work with soil microbes and in her support of farmers, are at the vanguard), too many of my fellow farmers have confirmed three glaring and troubling realities in the status quo of farm and food research:

1) Many researchers never give a thought to either the health of farming communities or to the health of soil. In the ground, studies are often influenced by funders, focused solely on yield (regardless of the inputs involved) or even seemingly geared toward pre-conceived click grabbing.

2) Sometimes the folks “supervising” the research, in powerful, very well-paid positions at their institutions, know jack-diddly about hemp, or regenerative farming at all. Or, dang, on occasion, even how a plant’s biology works.

This might be what surprises me most in some of my interactions with academia in recent years. If you find yourself mid-career in that kind of situation, why not go into another field, so to speak? One fairly prominent researcher told me his graduate students apply glyphosate in between research trials to “clear the deck.” Carcinogens, my friend, are not a control group. Back to undergraduate school for you (if not kindergarten). Let’s not mince words: living soil means humanity continues. We don’t have time for anything else.

And then, finally, there is this:

3) The financial exploitation of farmer knowledge and IP. To a guy whose slogan is, “this time the farmers are in charge” (including when it comes to genetics), it is anathema when ivory tower dwellers, already paid and tenured, want a cut of the action. I was recently told that if I were to give fifty percent of the rights to a cultivar I’m developing to a university, the affiliation might be used in exchange for a route to a certification stamp. Man, even the mafia at its height didn’t demand that kind of cut. And I was actually told to be happy: normally this institution demands all of the farmer’s IP. It’s evidently just the standard way they do business.

Sorry, guys, we’re doing it differently this time. We tried farmer debt serfdom for a century. It didn’t work. It broke rural communities worldwide and poisoned the world.

The lesson from the above three realities, my fellow hemp farmers, is, don’t be flattered that a tenured academic at a well-known college wants to collaborate with you. He should be flattered that a humanity-extender like yourself has time to speak with him. As should any investor, no matter how well-heeled. And I’d suggest not providing seeds unless you sign paperwork that you provide, and not any institutional paperwork with the tiniest red flag in it.

I learned from my own mentors (and now co-breeders) at Winterfox Farms in Oregon what a good materials transfer agreement (MTA) looks like. It’s likely a good move to get on that as well. Even then, I’ve sometimes found I’ve have to watch the researchers using my genetics closely, be persistent to get agreed-upon updates, and issue reminders that our written agreement prevented their replicating my IP without a further agreement.

United, of course, we farmer/entrepreneurs have power. If we use it to change how genetic certification is done, fine. I’m all for grown-up upgrading from broken systems. To name just one key point, growing food is a human right. It can’t be patented. The long nightmare of cannabis prohibition is over. Its three-generation duration is to our advantage: We can shape this industry any way we like.

If you are a researcher (or entrepreneur) interested in the myriad benefits of cannabis/hemp, you don’t have to be born with the knowledge. A good start, if you want to work with an experienced regenerative hemp farmer, is simply to do a rare thing: be humble about it. Enter into relationships where farmers are the managing partners.

Another good step for interested academicians or enterprises is to document your goals. The following holds true whether for-profit, not-for-profit, cooperative, B-corp. or research-based: if a project aims to provide, for instance, soil knowledge, or protein-rich seeds, to large numbers of independent farmers with an open source outlook, that’s promising.

I mention protein for a reason: If you’re doing hemp research, I hope many folks will steer it toward superfood characteristics and fiber properties, and not just cannabinoids (which of course are also wonderful and important). Food and fiber crops derive from dioecious (male and female) hemp, which will soon, let us pray, be grown outdoors in the millions of acres.

And a third key item that I believe is very wise for anyone considering any form of cannabis/hemp research to post with a hemp-paper stickie on their monitor: YOU CAN STOP WORRYING ABOUT THC. The war on cannabis is over. Cannabis won. When it comes to THC definitions, please operate with this awareness: cannabis/hemp will soon be returning to its eight millennia-old definition: namely, it is only the farmer’s business what is in her crop, unless a harvested female flower will be going to market at or above a locally determined THC threshold.

Federal THC definitions of “cannabis” versus “hemp” are going away. This, of course, further makes this gene marker balderdash irrelevant. We want to see what comes up out the ground local, in our unique soil, as we breed like Augustinian monks (that was Mendel’s day job). Reality, for those thinking about the coming cannabis/hemp markets, means focusing on field performance (not just yield but nutrient density) in sync with concurrent soil building.

As I mentioned in a previous Fine in the Field column, this next stage in policy can’t come too soon for a world immersed in multiple health crises: I was told by researchers in one 2019 field study that my cultivar performed the best in their northern state study, but that they couldn’t recommend it because it tested mildly hot (which, by the way, it never has done when I’ve cultivated it). So for now, not just farmers but customers will be offered inferior food because of incredibly minute variations in THC under an insane and arbitrary launch definition. On December 15, just as I was finishing this column, Senator Paul of Kentucky introduced the Hemp Economic Mobilization Plan (HEMP) Act of 2020. Guess what? It raises the definition of hemp to 1%. Early reactions from colleagues of mine with strong congressional relationships have expressed uncertainty as to whether this bill will gain traction, and it has a few clauses in other areas that could be improved, but I mention it here because we’re already seeing 1% THC legislation introduced. It’s going to happen. Let’s make it happen. If you haven’t already, please sign the Vote Hemp 1% THC letter here.

Cannabis is cannabis, whether .7 percent THC or 19 percent THC resides in the female flower at harvest. THC, in fact, is irrelevant in the field, always, and irrelevant off the field until the retail level. Recognizing this somewhat obvious farming reality (in what other crop are farmers asked to hamper their crop’s performance out of fear of one compound within?) is one reason why Chinese fiber has the lead in the early hemp market: the plants are grown for fiber performance, without worrying about hypothetical THC in a flower that’s not going to market.

When farmers are not stressing over THC field tests, they can focus on what matters. And what matters are, 1) How your crop performs in its fiber, seed, and/or flower production, and 2) How much carbon you sequester in your regenerative farming techniques.

Moreover, please, everyone, always remember that her crop’s entire entourage effect, the balance of its cannabinoid/terpene/flavonoid/protein/mineral profile, is the farmer’s IP, the way that the iOS is iPhone’s IP. The last thing she would allow is any lab determining whether that IP meets some kind of far-off hemp definition. We are the in-the-field-researchers conducting R and D with every brush of pollen. To have anyone outside our field try to edit our crop would be like a non-techie regulator in 1977 advising Steve Wozniak what components to put into the first Apple computer. Obviously he’d tell that bureaucrat to stay the heck out of Silicon Valley brainstorming.

Our hemp work is of the same model. In American Hemp Farmer, I wrote, “Change being the only constant, what I like to emphasize is that hemp’s potential is so amazing, with previously unimagined applications appearing annually (witness hemp’s ideal molecular structure at the nano level for digital age applications like next generation supercapacitors), nothing going on inside a plant’s brain will surprise me. I feel safe declaring that a market sector not even in existence today will emerge by 2030. I hope those recyclable, next-generation hempen battery components come into play, a hempseed diet craze emerges, and a bunch of next-wave cannabinoid-terpene combinations bring about the final demise of the cancer cell.”

That means diversity, not monoculture. If we humans are clever, we’ll create conditions that ensure that tens of thousands of hemp varieties comprise a vibrant cannabis/hemp economy, not a few cultivars created by would-be patent holders holding farmers in another century of serfdom. This philosophy that we farmer/entrepreneurs espouse, in practice, is a return to the thinking that built America. Out on the prairie, Pa Ingalls was not indentured to the wheat company from which he bought his seed. Seed saving is part of the traditional farming process.

Sure, if you want to buy your genetics from a seller offering seeds cheaper than an open-source provider does, with the stipulation that you must buy them again next year, fine. As long as there are plenty of other options from which a farmer can choose. We are perfectly happy to see a level playing field when it comes to genetics available for farmers. There are scores of terrific open-source domestic seed varieties available to newcomers to hemp, whether they’re growing for seed, fiber, cannabinoids, soil building, or, as I am, for all of the above. This farmer’s choice model, I’m glad to report, is how genetics rules work in most of the states where I’ve cultivated, including New Mexico and Vermont.

Once the industry has matured a bit, all these varieties can qualify for seed certification in a state or region. Some states are already moving forward on fair certification rules, including Colorado and Oregon, but I favor allowing at least a decade of open source seed development and distribution prior to the certification process in any region, to allow farmers to make progress with the pollen brushes.

I say, “this time the farmers are in charge,” and I don’t necessarily mean exclusively human farmers. The recently-harvested seeds I’ve got stored here on the Ranch do so much to keep those about whom I care most healthy that I feel as though I work for them. As Bob Dylan puts it, “you gotta serve someone.” Whoever is really running the show, it’s happening on the farm. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s good to have friends in low places. A thriving field means thriving soil, which means humanity has a shot at making a go of it post-petroleum.

About Doug Fine
Doug Fine is a comedic investigative journalist, bestselling author, and solar-powered goat herder. His latest book is American Hemp Farmer: Adventures and Misadventures in the Cannabis Trade (Chelsea Green Publishing, April 2020). He has cultivated hemp for food, farm-to-table products and seed-building in four U.S. states; You can register for his online regenerative hemp course with Acres USA here. Willie Nelson calls Doug’s work “a blueprint for the America of the future.” The Washington Post says, “Fine is a storyteller in the mold of Douglas Adams.” A website of Doug’s print, radio and television work, United Nations testimony, and TED Talk is at and his social media handle is @organiccowboy.

Fine In the Field – November 2020

Fine in the Field - a column by author and hemp farmer Doug Fine

November, 2020: Processing Like a Shaman, Winning in the Marketplace

The first food I popped into my mouth when I woke this morning was hemp, and I ate it in a very analog way; an eight-thousand-year-old way. I simply tossed fresh seeds into my mouth. Delicious, of course. Nutrient-packed, as we know, and not at all processed. But not legal, if, for instance, I wanted to send it to a diabetic friend of mine, who might benefit from the anti-inflammatory properties in the hemp seed’s gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). At the moment, you can’t ship “viable” hemp seeds to someone without a state permit because the recipient might save the world with it.

That kind of regulatory reality, of course, is insane, and this is why, as I hear so many of my colleagues fretting over various federal agencies messing around with unworkable regulations, my advice is, “remember, we are the government. We decide. Our administrators work for us. Because we are trying to heal soil and extend humanity’s tenure of the planet, we’ll help our administrators craft the rules that work for us.”

When I make that statement, I’m time traveling to two places: I’m looking ahead ten years to the effective, very light, farmer-friendly policy that we will ensure is coming our way, and I’m looking back eight thousand years. Ya know, to the good old days.

I will never forget that hemp required no regulation for most of human history. At the time of the American Revolution, for instance, the very idea would be properly regarded as the product of a criminal mind. In fact, I was told so by Mount Vernon Interpretive Program Supervisor Deborah Colburn during a visit to George Washington’s estate (I was there to help harvest the first Mount Vernon hemp field in 200 years; I cut myself with a sickle).

As we re-launch hemp following 80 years of prohibition, I’m glad folks are commenting on, pushing back on and even suing over nonstarter policies set in some cases by agencies that aren’t, by law, even in the hemp game any more. We’ll win on these fronts, like we’re winning on every front. Humanity wants its cannabis back: Mississippi just legalized medical. But readers of these Fine in the Field columns know that I am of the large school of farmers who believe that the most effective concurrent strategy is to leapfrog that nonsense and make laws that read unambiguously in a supportive way – laws that allow us, and humanity’s recovery mission, to launch and thrive.

From a tactical standpoint, this means that our first move, right now, is to change the federal THC definition of hemp first to 1% (as measured by delta-9 THC, which folks in the trenches are aware is the friendlier mode), then 3%, and then in five or so years (or maybe in the next Farm Bill) we once again classify all cannabis as one plant, with no “hemp” delineation at the federal level. That allows two crucial improvements: it allows states to land at their own psychoactive THC level of this one plant (cannabis), and, most importantly, it frees farmers from any testing at all until and unless female flower from their crop is going to the public. So let’s get on that.

Back here on the Ranch, thankfully, we can gobble our fresh seed at will. This happens to be a human right (to grow and sustain one’s family on whatever plants one likes). It’s also way folks have eaten hemp for the past eight millennia. Furthermore, can I just say, “Yum”?

But when I grow a hemp crop for commercial product, if I want to ship its bounty to others, I’m mandated by today’s rules to “process” it. “Processing” is not a word I adore, given its association with slices of prepared cheeselike product. It just doesn’t feel true to the fragrant, “double, double toil and trouble” world in which I live when preparing hemp for storage or product.

At all stages of the hemp season, the question I like to ask is, “How has this always been done?” In other words, how did the shaman process hemp? My own bottled hemp, the hemp I eat, the hemp I rub on the ol’shoulders following another day of high desert ranch life, comes about from a very simple process and care of only two ingredients, usually from the same plant: 1) hemp flower, heated in 2) hemp seed oil (“decarboxylated” is the technical term for this heating of flower in a lipid). I grow mostly dioecious hemp, or male and female crops, on the theory that most everyone’s happier when dating.

Now, hemp of course is a big canvas tent. The folks who taught me the nuances of decarboxylation, Iginia Boccalandro and Bill Althouse of the Fat Pig Society organic hemp cooperative in Fort Collins, Colorado, have themselves moved on to cold ethanol processing of their organic farm-to-product harvest. As Bill told me in the new book American Hemp Farmer, “We had to…for the quantity of product that we produce. The uniformity, in sync with the regularity of the planting cycles, all made (cold ethanol) the best option.”

I’m sticking with decarboxylation in cauldrons for now (and at the moment I’m only working my own family’s superfood diet here in the high desert – my entrepreneurial crop to date has been cultivated organically in Vermont). But to my mind, if your harvest is organic and soil building, your entity is farmer-enriching, and your facility is solar-powered, process by whatever means you like, as long as all the plant’s elements remain: I take nothing out, not terpenes from the flower nor lignin from the seeds. I don’t understand this obsession with “clear” versus “cloudy” products. Man, that goop is good! But then I have the luxury of sticking with the shaman’s mode both in my own diet and in my very small batch product. Experts in hemp food products in particular tell me that remaining chlorophyll and lignin can shorten a product’s shelf life. Fine with me.

As a result, it’s a fragrant world in which I’m typing this morning. The hummingbirds woke me as usual – the last of the season are filling up on nectar before migrating (petroleum- and security-free), to Costa Rica. This fragrant world is thanks to the heating hemp: decarboxylation (or “Decarbing,”) is the most ancient way of processing cannabis/hemp. You are, in essence, activating a plant’s cannabinoids through heating. Technically, as the name implies, you’re removing a carbon atom. It’s what happens when you light a spliff or make a CBG cookie.

The reason I start with the “what would the shaman do?” question is that I find that we humans have had things figured out for a long time, in most areas of life. You and I being here attests to that. Thus after harvest, out come the cauldrons (OK, large pasta pots) and so begins another decarbing session. I discuss the nuances of the whole farm-to-table bottling experience in American Hemp Farmer, in the context of recounting a professional run I did in a commercial kitchen with my colleagues in Vermont. But what feels the key takeaway of this morning’s “work” is that I’m a happy man when I am stirring a cauldron, breathing in the essence of cannabinoids for 180 minutes. I think I might have some Druidic lineage.

If you are a regenerative hemp farmer/entrepreneur of any part of the plant, whether your final products include massage oil, toothpaste, socks, rocket parts, superfood, special cannabinoid blends or hempcrete feedstock, I think it’s a wise idea to crow about your enterprise being part of what we might call the solution. Whether it’s petroleum-free harvests, compostable labels on your lovingly processed hemp product, and/or delivery in electric vehicles to a regional network of outlets, if your enterprise is regenerative on- and off- the farm, my prediction is your products will be among the best available in your regional marketplace.

The light, farmer-friendly cannabis/hemp regulation we’re discussing, in the long-run, gives folks who take a “regenerative everything” mindset to the commercial level the opportunity to launch humanity with a promising trajectory into the post-petroleum era. The goal is not just a solar-powered economy worldwide (and by the way the International Energy Agency announced this month that solar power is now the world’s least expensive energy source); it’s a solar-powered world powering compostable cars, space stations, homes and hoverboards with energy stored by hemp batteries. Folks will be outside more, processing that Vitamin D, both because the air will be cleaner and because their hemp (and other superfood) diet staples will help reinforce a health maintenance culture, rather than a health care one.

This is the message that I find emerging at processing time (maybe “emanating” is the verb that best conveys the role that the sense of smell is playing). Enhanced by my family’s sense that we have given ourselves a decent shot at surviving for another year, the memo to my colleagues who market their hemp commercially is this: don’t be cowed by broken cultivation and food regulatory systems. Change ‘em.

Buoyed by having the most bioavailable hemp, the most enriching to the soil, overall the highest quality, most regenerative enterprises possible, you can join the chorus of farmer/entrepreneur voices molding our distinct craft cannabis/hemp sector. Just as craft beer is cleaning up on mass produced beer (gaining one percentage of market share annually, on account of tasting better), I envision our sector (comprised of hundreds of thousands of independent, regionally-distributing farmers of all parts of the hemp/cannabis plant’s architecture) starting out as the industry leader and never relinquishing that lead.

Think living food. Think soil building. Appreciate the plants that are helping keep you alive. And on the business side, I strongly suggest having a multiyear game plan, which is not so easy, one realizes, for farmers with mortgages and other debt. But in a fast evolving landscape in which 99 percent of customers have never bought a hemp product, endurance is almost certainly a component of success. If you do all this, I hope the plant will return to you and yours all you ask and more.

Again influenced by the scents and Omegas coursing through my body, I’d like to end this month’s column by thanking the very plants who are at this moment allowing my body to convert seed to energy, and not just that: good energy. Each morning at this time of year as I watch the courting raven gymnastics while I stretch with the rising sun, it feels like something is missing from the field blow the Ranch house. And each day it occurs to me anew: it is the hemp plants. They are not gone. They are in jars and in my belly, or in the case of the fiber, in stacks in advance of becoming a hempcrete patch for the porch.

It was just a month or two ago that I was jamming with the plants and they were dancing with me. Many were taller than I and most were taller than my sons. I am so acutely appreciative for the nutrition, the education and the downright fun of spending part of every day in a hemp field for half a year. At certain times in the season, when I stretched in the field I felt I could almost see each plant growing.

Having cabinets full of seed and flower, cleaned by my sons and myself in a colander-shaking rhythm that reveals how zydeco music came about, provides an affirming message that life will continue and good health, heaven-willing, can be maintained. Thus I work for plants, fungi and other unnamed kingdoms, invisible to us but some day widely thanked alongside clean air and water.

About Doug Fine
Doug Fine is a comedic investigative journalist, bestselling author, and solar-powered goat herder. His latest book is American Hemp Farmer: Adventures and Misadventures in the Cannabis Trade (Chelsea Green Publishing, April 2020). He has cultivated hemp for food, farm-to-table products and seed-building in four U.S. states; You can register for his online regenerative hemp course with Acres USA here. Willie Nelson calls Doug’s work “a blueprint for the America of the future.” The Washington Post says, “Fine is a storyteller in the mold of Douglas Adams.” A website of Doug’s print, radio and television work, United Nations testimony, and TED Talk is at and his social media handle is @organiccowboy.

Fine In the Field – October 2020

Another Digital Age Human Joins the Eight Millennia-Old Harvest Dance

My family is just in from harvesting a good portion of our winter superfood diet, care of a half dozen plant species. Think about this: in a time of supply chain reexamination and in a world where more than a billion folks just like you and me wonder if they’ll eat today (or find clean water), I get to sprinkle freshly harvested hemp seeds atop my son’s birthday ice cream. One sees why harvest festivals arose.

And when I say “just in from harvesting,” I mean just in: my fingers are still sticky with hemp trichomes and redolent of basil here in New Mexico. Nutrient-dense hemp seeds, leafy kale, and lycopene-packed tomatoes are filling a basket, along with near-future burritos from the regional bean varietal — one enjoyed by folks in my valley for 1,500 years.

To me, what’s incredible is that this has become incredible. A family working on its own survival shouldn’t be a click-grabbing column headline. It should be like waking up — something everyone does every day.

For most of our existence as a species, this is how it worked for all humans: harvest, and you eat. Neglect to harvest, and you don’t see spring. Pretty simple. And humanity survived. You and I are proof.

Then they thought up feudal dukedoms and, as we know, supermarkets weren’t far behind. The latter of which was a magnificent development when one promotes “convenience” up life’s priority list. I ain’t got nothin’ against convenience (although quick poll: is anyone’s leisure time increasing?), but growing up in the suburbs when Madonna was like a virgin, something told me it wasn’t wise to rely solely on this fluorescent warehouse full of baseballs posing as tomatoes, a tower of breakfast grains boxed in tiger-themed designs that were soaked in equal parts sugar and pesticides, and a wax museum of shipped-in apples.

I was already grown when the dyed farm salmon began showing up at prices cheaper than the fuel that shipped them half a world from Chile. Hmm. And GMO food-simulation products, those short-lived johnny-come-latelies, didn’t start until 1996. We can say, “appreciate the effort to increase yields. but it didn’t work, and killed soil and farm economies in the process, so no thanks.” I feel empowered to say just that when my family’s bean genetics pre-date glyphosate and atrazine by a millennium and a half. Our hemp genetics probably go back further than that.

Here I’d like to acknowledge and honor that many of us in this busy life might say, “that all sounds lovely and doable on a ranch in the middle of nowhere. But between commute and daycare pickup I just don’t have time for that kind of life essentials focus.” That line of thinking works as long as the supermarket supply chain holds up, and as long as you don’t care too much about nutrient density and taste.

Recent events (you know, a planetary pandemic), not to mention worldwide health trends, might make it seem wise to think about making time for a touch of life essentials focus. Toilet paper, let alone baseball tomatoes and the rest of the stuff in supermarkets, after all, haven’t yet proven their long-term durability.

Take baby steps, is my suggestion, if you want to re-start living like a member of the animal kingdom on planet Earth. Start with a small garden in the yard or on the roof. Then add a few chickens. Before long you might be Goat Whispering with the best of ‘em. And loving it. Being outside and tending to life is usually my second favorite part of the day. It’s not procrastinating when you’re adding goat poop to your family’s hemp field.

I ate my last baseball tomato a couple of decades before starting a family. I met my sweetheart at the local food co-op. Our kids were born within view of this season’s polyculture garden. So you can perhaps understand why we Fines are issuing forth with the same primeval prayers of gratitude that have echoed across harvested fields for eight millennia. Our congregational organ here in the high desert is a symphony of bees. And we also very consciously thank the soil microbes. Without them, there are not only no plants, there is no accompanying carbon sequestration. We’re up for another 8,000 years of this kind of bliss. Because the big secret of neo-rugged individualism is how fun it is. When a hummingbird’s wings provide your alarm clock, probably keep doing what you’re doing.

That’s a personal and mental health takeaway. One enterprise-related takeaway here is, if you think the hemp renaissance is about planting this crop in the same soil-leaching monoculture mode that’s nearly wiped out humanity over the past century, think again. At all levels of the industry, we have no choice but to do it regeneratively, right from launch. And that means lots of independent farmers, broad genetic diversity (AKA seeds owned by farmers) and baseline organic and fair trade principles. If we’re wise, every label is compostable, describing in non-toxic ink exactly where the hemp was cultivated, how is was grown, and, ideally, the farmer stake in the enterprise.

Accordingly, it’s occurred to many of us making a go at it as independent farmers, that the biggest speed bump in this rather joyous lifestyle is not climate but policy. It’s especially funny to my offspring that non-farming strangers would have the gumption to try to dictate what kind of superfood my family and yours can grow. Our obvious response is, “No, thanks. We’ll tell you what we want to grow and how we’re going to grow it.”

If I sound emphatic, it’s because from a remote ranch perspective, it’s glaringly obvious that the food regulatory system is broken. As if the world’s struggling soil, reduced yields and depressed farming economies aren’t enough, the diabetes and obesity epidemics provide further proof. Meanwhile, my neighbor Ashley, the raw dairy farmer, was expected to build a special bathroom for the inspector of her six cows. That should combat obesity and help farm economies. We independent regenerative hemp farmers are out to modify the paradigm to meet our top-shelf craft market niche’s modes of cultivation, production and distribution. C’mon on board. The strategy is to add a new and supportive category to food regulation: regenerative, craft, living foods.

First and foremost, we’re out to create alternatives to counterproductive food “safety” laws written by supermarket lawyers. As for how this already-leading regenerative craft industry sector will look when codified, I’ve been suggesting a few starting points, but I’m not the arbiter, I’m just one farmer interested in seeing the best ideas emerge and become standard: 1) Create a new tier of food officialdom, the regenerative craft niche, which is regulated more along the lines of farmer’s markets, what today are called “cottage industry” laws. Thus, we professionalize small-batch, nutrient-dense, living foods. And 2) Entities that are part of this category will produce 15 tons or less of final product annually, will be regionally-owned by producers, will have a 500 miles distribution radius and will cultivate organically.

However it winds up looking, one thing I feel safe predicting is that the regenerative craft sector will produce the highest quality hemp. I feel safe because it already does. The fundamental issue that mandates this new category was one I described in my recent book American Hemp Farmer, in a chapter called “The Friendly Fungus and the Hairnet”: We all want the products we buy, especially food-grade products and products that touch our skin, to be safe. It’s the homogenization of any variance, the “death to all microbes, good and bad” direction of globalized food law for which we provide a countercurrent. We don’t provide sterile products. We provide living products.

With a brand new hemp industry, we have the opportunity and obligation to codify our living foods. The food regulatory framework is designed for large, globalized operators, in cost and paperwork. One might accede to these kinds of rules if people were actually getting healthier as a result of them.

My friend Roger Gussiaas of Healthy Oilseeds in North Dakota is a perfect example of someone doing food-grade hemp production by the book under today’s rules. That’s because at his volume levels (much higher than 15 tons per year), he’s got his eye on proposed global food protocols. To say microbe testing eats up a lot of his time is an understatement.

“It’s never-ending,” he told me as we toured his vast oil-pressing facilities in hairnets and smocks in 2018. Some of his grain storage bags were two stories high. “We spent two thousand hours and twenty thousand dollars last year going through…the Global Food Safety Initiative. We did it because we feel a retailer is going to ask for these certifications. I’m lucky that my wife and my sister are very good at keeping track of it all. It’s more than one full-time job.”

Nationwide, and collectively if we’re wise, our strategy is to expand the cottage food concept to a wider professional industry category. This category will reflect the key role small-batch, top-shelf branding already plays and (let us hope) will continue to play right from the launch of the modern hemp industry. How should our regs read? Herein resides the crossroads (I won’t say collision course) of what I think of as the Friendly Fungus with what we might call the Hairnet Era.

I like living foods. Every day, I eat as many living foods as I can. From sauerkraut and elderberry syrup to our hemp and local apples. Furthermore, for most of human history, the kind of production mode I enjoy with hemp was the norm. There was no Chilean farm salmon. There was no supermarket.

The microorganisms in our soil provide our top shelf hemp’s distinct taste profile, its terroir. This is what I’m growing and shopping for whenever possible, in all my food: the most long-standing production modes. If they didn’t work, I wouldn’t be writing these words and you wouldn’t be reading them.

When it comes to hemp, we’re not necessarily referring to any one microbe. We’re talking more about a philosophy of raw or at least minimally processed food. In the end, there are microbes and there are microbes. As Michael Pollan puts it. “Some of my best friends are germs.” When we speak of beneficial microbes, we mean beneficial not just for the soil but also for the garden that is our gut. This is why I never look for “anti-microbial” products. I look for microbial balance. In many cases, you want the good ones. Waging a war on all microbes is the thinking that causes superbugs. By crafting and eating living food, we’re trying to nurture the ones that play nicely with us.

Obviously, there are dangerous microbes that we don’t want in our food. A Dutch colleague of mine, Sander Sandee, developed an indoor food production protocol as part of his graduate work. Sander is a fellow who can make sure every manner of abbreviation appears after your product’s name. His shop talk includes QMS (quality management systems), MMRs (master manufacturing records), ISO (International Organization for Standardization) Quality Standards, and GMP (good manufacturing practices). He singled out HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points) as a guideline that he thinks is important for every “grow.” That’s a noun that indoor cultivators substitute for “farm.”

Others in the industry recommend a Preventive Control Qualified Individual (PCQI) certification. This is evidently required by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), a 2011 federal law in the United States, drafted by large grocery trade groups, that expands FDA powers in controlling how food is grown and prepared. Parts of FSMA put forth exactly the kind of requirements from which we craft producers should be at least partly exempted. Or else we independent regenerative farmers might have to float our own counter bill, let’s call it the Food Safety Antiquating Act.

Our policy work will argue that a production facility should be “bad” microbe-free, of course. But kill all microbes in order to be allowed to provide our products to customers? Not so much. Uniformity and clean grow environments are Sander’s big talking points. This is the side of food-grade production that sees edible products as the end result of a “process” that needs “control.”

“What does a clean grow environment mean to you?” I once asked him.

“Effectively zero microbes,” he said. “Automated clean rooms with no people inside.”

So for one part of the hemp/cannabis industry, clean means “sterile.” Gone will be farmers touching every plant almost every day, as I do, since I believe the truism that goes, “what plants love best is the farmer’s shadow.”

Guys like Sander are in demand. Anytime there’s a romaine-tainting scare, they get more in demand. Sander provides a company with a paper trail that says folks won’t get salmonella from their clones or isolate. This is the side of the industry that wants to push the plant as a pharmaceutical-grade product. Which is one way to go.

But for the independent farmer-entrepreneur to thrive, it’s equally important that a whole-plant option, with all its nutritive properties still active in it, is also widely available for everyone, anywhere, who wants it. Even when said plant is grown under that messy sun and in soil full of—shudder—fungus and other microbes. Ideally, we’ll have both nutritive supplement and pharmaceutical options in the edible hemp marketplace. You can pick. I’ve heard lawyers refer to these two evolving branches of the hemp industry as two equal “streams.”

In other words, you can today choose to eat a lot of fresh carrots or take beta carotene pills. A level playing field in the hemp marketplace means if you want a cannabinoid product, you can buy a flower tincture provided by regional farmers or you can buy a pill grown in a grow facility . . . somewhere.

Leaping into the phone booth to transform into Mr. Reasonable Middle Ground, all I’m saying here is that we must find a balance that protects hemp product safety without turning every sellable product into the cannabis equivalent of irradiated milk. That’s because when you nuke any living product, an entire market sector and I believe, over-processing can damage some of what is inherently beneficial in the product itself. I’m the kind of guy who wants to see all the plant’s cannabinoids, terpenes, and bioflavonoids, in their intended ratios, end up in the bottle. Living, organic hemp must have an equal if not predominant seat at the table. It’s not just our brand. We regenerative farmer/entrepreneurs believe it’s the most bio-available brand.

The enduring predominance of our craft sector past hemp’s launch phase will likely hinge on two things: (1) our effective organization as farmers to craft and enact the kind of regulations that will allow us to thrive, and (2) enough customers making the decision to support local and regional enterprises.

When both of these happen, we’ve got ourselves an enduring market share. We’ll be equipped to play in the big leagues alongside Big Food. In fact, here’s another prediction: Craft Hemp will run away from any kind of Big Hemp the way Craft Beer is mopping up Miller. We can let the CBD mills that aspire to supply chain drug stores fight over the kind of protocols that will result in ultrapasteurized hemp. If you’re a raw food–leaning family like mine is, you will have commercial access to it even if you can’t personally own goats or grow hemp. Our craft hemp regulations must allow a living-food middle ground. Best practices? Yes. Sterile hemp? Not for the craft stream of the industry.

The goal is mainstream buying habits demanding our products. Just as today every customer understands that a drink might come in regular and diet, so our endgame is a shopping climate wherein every purchase decision is either “regenerative” or “other.”

Also exciting is that this is about more than one crop. If we succeed with craft hemp, the regenerative mode can lead all agricultural production and feed the wider economy in coming decades. When hundreds of millions of people start to shop this way, a thriving network of regional economies can succeed. As we rally customers, we’re going to jujitsu our way into a seat at the table that carves out the industry’s parameters. We will have our own lawyers and safety experts to help us negotiate key points based on craft beer and cottage models but expanded to our 15-ton-or-less industry sector.

How did we get from a celebratory tale of one family’s spiritually exuberant hemp harvest to “let’s write new craft-tier food laws so independent farming communities can thrive”? I think it happened because even with the scent of this year’s harvest still in my nose and the first Omegas coursing through my body, it occurs to folks like me at moments like these that the best policy for our nation and any nation is to start fresh with a food economy owned by farmers who are the beneficiaries of final market prices. Then we end health crises. Then we mitigate climate change by building healthy soil.

In the end, it all comes down to soil. Yes, even the future of those fungible isolate-based stock-traded CBD companies come down to soil. Because of the immense quality difference, yes. But also, because if you want to have thriving great-grandchildren, you are building soil. Consciously. As part of your hemp enterprise.

Will this be one of the few times in human history that farmers have been able to self-corral and agree amongst themselves? Will a critical mass of customers choose terroir, living foods and soil building over sanitized McHemp, over McEverything? I’m going with, “Yes.” Because I don’t like to think of the alternative, for the species.

The good news is that fun is part of the brand. It’s a business strategy. I’ll go further: fun is a food group for me. You know that birthday ice cream on which I sprinkled the hemp seeds? I also, somewhat unsurprisingly, stuck in a trick candle. These are not yet offered with beeswax and a hemp wick, but I’ve got it on my list of products to launch. Happy harvest season, everyone. We’re at half a million domestic hemp acres and counting. Only 233.5 million to go, to catch corn, soy, wheat and cotton. It’s a start.

About Doug Fine
Doug Fine is a comedic investigative journalist, bestselling author, and solar-powered goat herder. His latest book is American Hemp Farmer: Adventures and Misadventures in the Cannabis Trade (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2020). He has cultivated hemp for food, farm-to-table products and seed-building in four U.S. states. You can register for his online regenerative hemp course with Acres USA here. Willie Nelson calls Doug’s work “a blueprint for the America of the future.” The Washington Post says, “Fine is a storyteller in the mold of Douglas Adams.” A website of Doug’s print, radio and television work, United Nations testimony, and TED Talk is at and his social media handle is @organiccowboy.

Hemp Industry Members File Lawsuit Against DEA, Challenging Rule That Could Have Far-reaching Consequences

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A national hemp trade association and a South Carolina-based hemp company have filed a federal lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration, challenging a rule the agency implemented last month that could have far-reaching consequences for the U.S. hemp industry.

The petition filed Friday afternoon in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit asks the court to review an interim final rule, “Implementation of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018,” which was promulgated by the DEA on August 21. The lawsuit claims the rule is unlawful because it exceeds the DEA’s legal authority and violates the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, also known as the farm bill. The petitioners also argue that acting DEA administrator Timothy Shea, who is individually named as a respondent along with the agency, issued the interim final rule without observing procedures required by law.

The DEA’s interim final rule clarifies that all hemp derivatives or extracts exceeding 0.3% THC shall remain Schedule I controlled substances. This could be interpreted to include intermediate hemp derivatives that temporarily exceed 0.3% during processing, but contain less than 0.3% in final products. As such, it improperly establishes the DEA’s authority over legal hemp activities, which is contrary to the plain language and intent of the 2018 farm bill, according to the petitioners.

The petitioners in the lawsuit are RE Botanicals, Inc. and the Hemp Industries Association.

RE Botanicals, Inc. is a hemp manufacturer and retailer based in South Carolina. In 2019, it acquired Palmetto Synergistic Research LLC (dba Palmetto Harmony), which was founded to provide lawful, reliable, and high-quality hemp products.

“We are a small, woman-operated company,” said Janel Ralph, CEO of RE Botanicals. “The DEA’s new rule could put us out of business overnight.”

HIA is a trade association that represents approximately 1,050-member hemp businesses, including approximately 300 hemp processors and individuals involved in, or impacted by, the manufacture, distribution and/or sale of hemp extract and other products lawfully derived from industrial hemp. HIA successfully challenged DEA rulemaking in 2003, when the agency amended federal regulations to include naturally occurring THC within the definition of “synthetic THC,” thereby treating it as a Schedule I substance despite it falling outside the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act.

“When Congress passed the 2018 farm bill, it explicitly carved hemp and its derivatives out of the Controlled Substances Act so that hemp can be regulated as an agricultural commodity,” said HIA President Rick Trojan. “The DEA’s interim final rule could create substantial barriers to the legal manufacturing of hemp-derived products, a critical component of the hemp supply chain, and devastate the entire hemp industry. Although the DEA states that is not its intention, the rule must be amended to ensure hemp remains an agricultural crop, as Congress intended.”

The petitioners are represented by leading hemp industry attorneys at Vicente Sederberg LLP, Kight Law Office PC, and Hoban Law Group, along with appellate attorneys from Yetter Coleman LLP, which has received national attention for its work against the DEA in the realm of cannabis research.

“The DEA implemented this rule without following proper rule-making procedures, such as providing the public with notice and the opportunity to comment,” said Shawn Hauser, a partner at Vicente Sederberg LLP and chair of the firm’s hemp and cannabinoids practice. “The petitioners believe legal action is necessary to protect the lawful U.S. hemp industry that Congress intended to establish when it enacted the 2018 farm bill.”

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Fine In the Field – September 2020

What A Farmer Thinks About When The Hemp is Growing a Few Inches Per Day

I love this part of the hemp season. Though I realize as they emerge that I could write these same eight words as the lead to this column every month. Which is kind of the point: hemp farming is the most fun you can have outside the bedroom. Maybe it’s because my fingers are still terpene-fragrant as I type, but it seems to me that if being out in the field inhaling flowers and dodging butterflies isn’t a hemp farmer’s idea of a fun way to start the morning, she might want to choose another line of work.

But how do you not especially love August in a hemp field? The plants are in flower, yet still growing just short of visibly. Every morning I stumble through the dewy native undergrowth that surrounds my garden and wish good morning to completely transformed plants. It’s a daily shock that so much growth can happen in one day. And some people say plants don’t move. They don’t just move. They completely rearrange themselves as I could swear the basil was over here yesterday, relative to the tomatoes, the beans and the hemp.

If you grow dioecious hemp (male and female), as I do and as all farmers have for 8,000 years until a decade ago, the seeds are fattening with Omegas, which means harvest is in sight. This is when a young farmer’s fancy turns lightly to thoughts of THC testing.

Heading inside from the morning’s tax-deductible bliss session, I reacted to the testing results email in my inbox with something of the energy of a high schooler opening his college application reply. The problem with email is you can’t tell from the thickness of the envelope if it’s good news.

Phew. It was: our superfood crop tested at .18%. Here on the Ranch, we grow for seed, fiber, flower and the benefits of the roots. We grow in native soil. Outside. We grow for two main reasons: 1) To thrive on nutrient-dense food and 2) To help build soil and mitigate climate change.

Closing the testing company email (I wish the subject line had read, “Hooray! You passed!”) I could not remember the last time I felt so relieved. The reason I rarely feel relieved is that I rarely feel threatened. As we discussed in last month’s Fine In the Field Column, this cultivar, in various stages of its development, has tested from .1% to .54%, passing more than 85% of the time. I’m leaving out one .8-ish test because of extreme conditions in Arkansas in 2019 (also I provided the seed but didn’t grow that crop). But even if you figured that one in and tripled its THC level to 2.5% THC, that is an extremely low amount of THC, about which no farmer should have to worry for a second.

This discussion is not hypothetical, my friends. It doesn’t get any realer than this even as I felt the worry seep off me. I received a note from a farmer in Pennsylvania devastated and broke from a .4% test. He’d put everything into converting his farm to hemp. This nonsense has to stop, now.

Plant cannabinoid levels vary over the course of a day, as any hemp farmer can tell you. Testing equipment type and calibration can cause variations, as do the parts of the plant used in samples. The same researchers who proposed the arbitrary and outdated level of .3% THC under which we live for a short time longer suggested testing leaves. So why do so many early state hemp programs pluck cola flowers, where cannabinoid levels are highest? Testing, while it still occurs at all, should be as farmer friendly as possible. We want farmers to pass their THC tests.

But none of that really matters, in the long term. Having to test for THC at all is an unnecessary threat to the farmers who are trying to mitigate climate change and provide a recovery roadmap from the obesity and diabetes era. No farmer should have to worry about THC testing, ever. And they soon won’t have to. There is a policy route to this important goal. It is called “THC Irrelevance Until Retail” and it’s vital for both the future of the cannabis/hemp industry and for humanity.

What it means is, the farmer never has to deal with a THC test, unless she is part of the entity bringing forth female flower (where cannabinoids reside) to the public at the retail level. Only when flower is packaged and preparing to go to the consumer will THC even be discussed. Then, if states regulators choose (not federal regulators) they can set a THC level above which a cannabis product of any kind might be regulated for either adult social distribution or for medicinal use.

On the policy level, this means that there will no longer be a federal definition of “hemp” versus “cannabis” at all. Cannabis is cannabis, regardless of THC level. Cannabis will once again, as it has for eight millennia, be considered the one agricultural plant that it is. The feds are out of the cannabis game altogether. States will regulate cannabis either as they regulate tomatoes (let’s say for cannabis at less than 3% THC), and something like how they regulate alcohol (if a cannabis flower is intended to reach the public at above that 3% threshold). I should note that one of my key mentors, Edgar Winters, who has been cultivated hemp since 1957 in Alabama (for cotton baling twine), keeps telling me in his patient southern pacing, “Dang it, tell ‘em it should be 4%, at least, before it’s regulated even at the retail level. It’s 25% in dispensaries. There’s nothing to worry about.”

Think it’s a pipe dream? Think again. It’s already evolving in policy. Vermont is leading the way in preparing for this inevitable future. Because make no mistake, this is the way it is going to be. Growing what we want to grow and owning our genetics is a flat-out human right. It is how the Ingalls survived on the Prairie. It is why humanity has lasted as long as it has.

How do we get there (or I should say “back” there – no one tested Kentucky hemp for THC in the Hemp For Victory era)? As we’ve been discussing here in the Fine in the Field space, the first and immediate step is changing the federal definition of hemp to 1% THC by dry weight, as tested in leaves. If you haven’t yet signed the Vote Hemp petition and called your Senators and congress people to add your voice to the rising chorus on the 1% fix, please do.

Once we’re at 1% (catching up to places like Switzerland, Thailand and Ecuador), we can begin the effort to implement “THC Irrelevance Until Retail” rule nationwide. The war on cannabis is over, people, and Cannabis won. This is a good thing. The winners make the rules. The win-win is that a thriving cannabis/hemp industry, where farmers grow for quality and never worry about hampering their crop due to last century’s insane obsession with one chemical compound in their plants, means customers get top-shelf cannabis/hemp.

If we’re wise, our goal is a diverse, regional hemp industry. The food market and really most of the consumer landscape is homogenous enough as it is. Diverse craft hemp markets with regional foci are best for both product quality and public health and safety. Thus, the last people we should be burdening with THC worry are farmers.

Once we realize this goal of “THC Irrelevance Until Retail”, how does the cannabis/hemp landscape look? Well, a farmer might grow a .1% THC flower crop for smokable CBC, or she might grow a fiber crop for supercapacitors, building feedstock or paper whose flowers, if sold, might test at 14%. But that farmer might choose not to sell those flowers to consumers as she’s focusing on her fiber product line, and doesn’t want to go through a THC regulatory process in her state. So she might wholesale them to someone else who will have the burden of testing THC levels before providing the final product to the public. THC will be no one’s business until psychoactive flower goes to customers at the retail level. And again, the farmer never has to think about it.

Meanwhile, the ripening seeds filling the cola flowers and lateral branches here on the Funky Butte Ranch hemp bode well for winter protein for my family. As you can imagine, I’m giving thanks. As are the birds, the rabbits and the bees. But there’s plenty for everybody. As monsoon rains mean I don’t have to water the garden today (heaven’s like, “I got this,”), I have a moment to reflect on the enormous good fortune I feel to be involved in hemp’s resurgence at its rebirth.

When it comes to the entrepreneurial side of my hemp work, the principal reason I’m endeavoring to produce anything beyond my own family’s superfood, cannabinoid and hempcrete requirements (in other words, the reason I make a small-batch product) is to try to provide a model for the kind of product I’d like to see when I shop. Namely, regenerative start to finish, including packaging.

As I type here on the ranch, another harvest full moon is rising, and I realize I spend a lot of time listening to what my plants have to say. Why wouldn’t I? They give so much, ask so little. As if providing my family’s superfood weren’t enough, their roots also sequester carbon and feed me oxygen. Each afternoon, it’s at least five degrees cooler in the garden than anywhere else here in the high desert. I listen to them because a lot is riding on the Funky Butte Ranch’s plant (and able microbes) doing their job, so we can do ours, all species having maximum fun along the way, of course.

We’re a half million acres into the young hemp industry. Personally, I think a reasonable, medium-term goal is 234 million acres – the amount of hemp that will equal today’s combined acreage of corn, wheat, soy, and cotton. Then we, as a nation and as a planet can truly know that superfood security is a seed away. We have one important historical development in our favor, one that may well make the difference: the long nightmare of cannabis prohibition is over. Its 80-year duration is to our advantage: We can shape this industry any way we like. And this time, the farmers are in charge.

About Doug Fine
Doug Fine is a comedic investigative journalist, bestselling author, and solar-powered goat herder. His latest book is American Hemp Farmer: Adventures and Misadventures in the Cannabis Trade (Chelsea Green Publishing, April 2020). He has cultivated hemp for food, farm-to-table products and seed-building in four U.S. states. You can register for his online regenerative hemp course with Acres USA here. Willie Nelson calls Doug’s work “a blueprint for the America of the future.” The Washington Post says, “Fine is a storyteller in the mold of Douglas Adams.” A website of Doug’s print, radio and television work, United Nations testimony, and TED Talk is at and his social media handle is @organiccowboy.

Vegan Hemp Ranch Dressing recipe

A great vegan option, this ranch dressing is super quick and easy to whip up. Even if you do dairy, try it. You may just like it better.

Vegan Hemp Ranch Dressing recipe

Photos courtesy of Karrisa’s Vegan Kitchen

Vegan Hemp Ranch Dressing ingredients
1 cup hulled hemp seeds (hemp hearts)
1 cup water
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dill
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp chives
Salt to taste

Add all ingredients into your blender and blend until smooth! Super quick and easy.

If you like this, check out our Vegan Hemp Queso recipe

Fine In the Field – August 2020

August, 2020: The Finish Line is In Sight: Final Steps If Hemp is Going to Save Humanity

I admit it: I find it cool that I can confidently write, “hemp cleans up radioactive soil.” Not, “I heard it does,” or “I wish it did,” or even “someone told me they used it at Chernobyl.” It actually does, according to a study being presented this month. I’m pleased to report that I provided the hemp for the study.

Last week I received word that researcher Hanah Rheay at New Mexico State University (under the guidance of Professors April Ulery and Catherine Brewer), is reporting in her American Society For Horticultural Science conference presentation on August 10 that she is seeing initial success in uranium uptake from contaminated mining soil planted with a hemp variety that I’ve been developing for five seasons. The plants do most of the work, actually. It’s pretty amazing.

The results are preliminary and research continues, but to see hemp confirmed as a phytoremediator of radioactive soil is certainly promising news. As I reported in my book American Hemp Farmer, in a first-phase study at the University of Hawaii, hemp is also removing 80 percent of the herbicide atrazine in soil, 50 days after planting.

More on both of these somewhat earthshaking (maybe the better word is earth-cleaning) studies as research continues. For now, fellow primates, just know that you, cultivating on small or large acreage, can help save humanity. You can grow superfood, rocket components, health maintenance compounds and green home building feedstock while sequestering carbon and removing toxins from soil. That is, if you grow outdoors, organically building native soil. That means not plugging your earth-saving plant into trucked-in soil through plastic sheets. For heaven’s sake, there are dozens of healthy weed matting methods for every ecosystem and climate – ones that humans have been using for millennia. I use seasoned alfalfa hay with goat poop topping. Enough with the petro-plastic already. It’s not needed.

So at this exciting moment, it might seem like this week’s Fine in the Field column’s theme is another example of a plant having the strong potential to play a role in expanding our species’ tenure on this planet – that is, using hemp at scale to clean up the twentieth century’s mistakes and forge forth into what we plant-based-economy advocates call the New Biomaterials Era. But actually this column’s theme is “we must change the federal THC definition of hemp to 1% immediately.” (THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive component of the cannabis/hemp plant.) That’s because all the soil cleaning and superfood growing might depend on a policy tweak happening before October 31.

You see, all cannabis/hemp varieties want some THC – the same way that our blood wants hemoglobin. Hemp has evolved with its 110 known cannabinoids, of which THC is one, for a variety of purposes, including predator defense, climatic adaptation, and pollinator attraction. And also, as Michael Pollan asserts in Botany of Desire, to please us apes.

And yet the current definition of hemp at the federal level – the THC definition that allows only some varieties of cannabis (for the moment) to be pulled from the Controlled Substances Act and be regulated as the agricultural products that they are, is unworkably low. As I mentioned in American Hemp Farmer, the .3% THC definition now in place under federal law was described by the Canadian researchers who chose it in a 1976 paper as an “arbitrary” level. The end result in the ground 44 years later is that 30% or more of hemp tests are going mildly hot (meaning beyond .3% THC by dry weight) in the early years of the modern industry. Most hot tests do not exceed 1%. Mine never have.

And here we return to cleaning the world’s immensely stressed soil and saving humanity. My cultivar, when I’ve grown it or provided it over the past two seasons, has passed its THC test 80% of the time. It tested at .1% and .25% here in New Mexico last year, and it tested at .29 in Oregon in 2018. But sometimes it tests a bit higher. And when I say a bit, I mean a very tiny bit. It’s hard to overstate the small levels of THC we’re discussing here – even 3% or 4% THC would not be anything close to dispensary THC levels, yet we’re dickering over percentages less than 1%?

We were at .54% in a North Dakota research plot in 2019. In rejecting the cultivar for farmers because of this absurd .3% ceiling, the researcher who conducted the study wrote me this super flattering note about my cultivar’s kick-butt performance in the field: “It was interesting to note that emergence of (your cultivar) at Langdon and other locations was the highest of all hemp cultivars. Emergence of hemp from the soil is a challenging issue and (your cultivar) seems to have a definite advantage in this area.”

Whoo hoo! Let’s get its superfood, fragrant flower, healing roots and strong fiber in the hands of farmers and grow, say 89 million acres of it (so we equal corn acreage, as a start). Oh, wait, I forgot: we’re subjecting farmers to insanely unworkable conditions. North Dakota’s solution? Offer farmers varieties that didn’t grow as well as mine. Ladies and gentlemen, that is no way to launch an industry.

Bottom line, with identical genetics (literally the same batch of the same seed), my COAs (Certificates of Analysis, which show the results of professional lab tested hemp samples) vary from .1 up to, one time, frighteningly close to .8 percent, though that was a very late planting in stressed soil in Arkansas. This proves that environment is hugely important in cannabinoid production. Duh. You plant a tomato in rich Oregon soil, it is going to have a distinct nutritive profile from the same seeds planted in the Sahara or subarctic.

This is just one example of why we have to change the THC definition of hemp to 1% posthaste: our immediate future as a species is at stake. U.S. farmers know that much of their farmland is sick — they have to dump more than twice as much nitrogen on each year as they did in 1964.¹ Europe has 3 million contaminated sites, the United States has 1,300 Superfund sites, and China estimates that 20 percent of its soil is polluted.²

Now, I’ll grant that planetary human survival is a legit topic. But at the moment I’m thinking more of next month’s mortgage for thousands of farmers who have risked everything to join the hemp renaissance. There were 16,877 permits issued in the U.S. last year, and for many of these farming families, their living depends on their hemp field. We should be making cannabis/hemp cultivation as easy as possible for these humanity-extenders. Worry-free hemp farming it should be, and worry free it will be.

At the moment, and I mean as you read these words, thousands of hemp farmers, myself among them, are sweating: it’s state inspection time of year in the final days of .3%. We’re all on our annual pins and needles as to how our samples are going to come back. For crying out loud, even the time of day when the samples are taken is a factor in THC levels, as it the type of testing equipment used.

Our grandchildren will laugh at our early hemp industry war stories. Dandling on our knees, they’ll ask, “The government spent money to come to our farm and test the crop for cannabinoids? For what possible purpose?”

Real people, like my friends at Salt Creek Hemp in Colorado in 2017, have lost their whole harvest on an arguable .34% test. That year, 30% of samples in Colorado and Kentucky tested hot. Folks, 1% is nothing. It needs to happen, and it needs to happen now. The war on cannabis is over. Cannabis won. Get over THC. If you don’t want to burn ganja, don’t. But in the field, it’s irrelevant.

And here’s why 1% needs to happen yesterday. On October 31 (appropriately enough), unworkable USDA hemp regulations kick in. Among the onerous provisions in these Interim Final Rules (IFR) is one that subjects a hemp farmer to federal narcotics prosecution at the unconscionable level of .5% THC. That means if a farmer grows my cultivar (or one of dozens of varieties like it), if she’s a good farmer, she has a 20% chance of being exposed to legal problems, rather than being profoundly thanked for her environmental work and patriotism. After all, hemp has, since 1994, been declared by executive order to be one of the nation’s “essential agricultural products” that should be stocked for defense preparedness purposes.³ She might be endeavoring to grow a healthy salad topping, a regenerative truck part or rocket component, a cannabinoid wellness tincture, or, as in the phytoremediation project for which I’ve been providing the genetics, trying to clean up toxins like uranium.

At this point, you might be saying, “How dare they put up any roadblocks to this plant?” But I’d like to be fair and say that when I speak to USDA folks who are involved in rulemaking, they’d like to see hemp succeed. To some degree, their hands are tied by the .3% definition, which is in federal law and so needs to be updated by congress. But the menacing IFR is really our catalyst to change that law. In congressional testimony, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has adopted an apologetic tone for undue influence from enforcement agencies when crafting the initial IFR. Such agencies — such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)  — were explicitly removed from hemp policy when hemp was legalized in the 2018 farm bill. Plus, the hardworking folks at DEA have opioid, meth and prescription drug crises to tackle. Hemp – and soon all cannabis – is out of federal law enforcement purview.

But there it is: the USDA’s IFR under current federal law pretty much shuts down the industry. It’s a non-starter. Easy fix, though. Before that IFR kicks in on October 31, Congress must act and change the definition of hemp to 1%. Then those IFR provisions are leapfrogged and our state hemp administrators are freed from burdening farmers with ridiculous tests. And then, in turn, we can launch this industry, rebuild rural America and mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon with regenerative farming practices. The win-win for customers resides in the superior, healthy products.

By the way, both major national farmer groups support raising the THC definition of hemp: the Farm Bureau and the National Farmer’s Union (in fact the NFU wants 3%). And the 1% move is an international phenomenon. Last week Ecuador joined the growing worldwide 1% team, alongside countries like Switzerland and Thailand, and multiple states in Australia.

What can you do? If you’re in the industry or love those who are, don’t merely sign the petition that the folks at Vote Hemp have set up. Please also call your Senators and congressperson and say, “No joke: my grandkids’ future depends on a 1% THC definition of hemp now. Add it to the forthcoming relief bill. It must happen by October 31.”

As for the IFR, you voice matters here, too, and USDA administrators recognize that there are serious problems with the document – the criminal risk at .5% is just one issue among many. And the good folks at the USDA have already delayed implementation of some onerous testing provisions that would have forced farmers to only use DEA-approved labs for cannabinoid sampling. But there is only so much that can be fixed in those regulations by October 31. You can comment and specify that all the enforcement wording must be removed, leaving any “enforcement” provisions to states. But the simple legislative tweak to a 1% definition must happen regardless, so please get on the horn with your federal representatives.

Back home in the Funky Butte Ranch at this time of year, the hemp is growing visibly every day. In the daily inspection of the crop that also serves as my morning stretch and trichome inhalation session (sometimes I’ll even honk my saxophone at the plants), I’m astounded each day in August by a sort of “my little babies are all grown up!” realization. The males and females are courting. And next week I’ll send off my official state samples, one of the final years a farmer will ever have to worry about .3% THC in his or her hemp crop. Wish me luck. Wish us all luck. There’s a lot of soil to clean up.

About Doug Fine

Doug Fine is a comedic investigative journalist, bestselling author, and solar-powered goat herder. His latest book is American Hemp Farmer: Adventures and Misadventures in the Cannabis Trade (Chelsea Green Publishing, April 2020). He has cultivated hemp for food, farm-to-table products and seed-building in four U.S. states, will be offering an online regenerative hemp course with Acres USA in the fall. Willie Nelson calls Doug’s work “a blueprint for the America of the future.” The Washington Post says, “Fine is a storyteller in the mold of Douglas Adams.” A website of Doug’s print, radio and television work, United Nations testimony, and TED Talk is at and his social media handle is @organiccowboy.

  1. Jenny Hopkinson, “Can American Soil Be Brought Back to Life?” Politico, September 13, 2017,
  2. “Report Sounds Alarm on Soil Pollution,” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, May 2, 2018,

  3. Renée Johnson, Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, July 24, 2013),

Hemp Industry Call to Action: Vote Hemp Urges Community to Sign Petition Calling for Congress to Approve 1% THC Levels in Hemp

“The hemp industry is creating many good jobs in farming and manufacturing at this critical time. We need to ensure that farmers don’t get hurt and that the industry can continue to grow and compete with other countries that allow higher THC levels.”Eric Steenstra, President, Vote Hemp

Washington, DC (July 14, 2020) – Leading hemp policy and advocacy group Vote Hemp is urging the hemp community to take advantage of a narrow window on Capitol Hill to sign and submit a petition telling Congress to change the legal definition of hemp to allow 1% THC.

Arbitrarily set by Canadian cannabis researcher Dr. Ernest Small in the 1970s, the current 0.3% limit mandated by Congress has proved to be problematic for growers, producers and manufacturers alike, and Vote Hemp and its supporters feel that action has to be taken now. Even Dr. Small agrees, more than four decades later, that “a 0.3% level is very conservative,” he told a leading industry publication. He stressed that the allowed 0.3% THC designation for hemp has had negative implications for biodiversity and the growth of the hemp market. “0.3% is proving a little problematical for those who wish to produce some cultivars,” he said. “It’s an especially stringent criterion [for] those who want to produce CBD. Most of the varieties selected for that have in excess of 0.3%…”

“We need to let Congress know that changing the definition is critical to our nascent industry, especially for farmers,” said Eric Steenstra, President of Vote Hemp. “It is not fair to producers to who are already struggling due to difficult market conditions, to risk losing their hemp crop due to it testing slightly above the current federal limit of 0.3%. We hope to submit as many signatures as we can in the next 30 days, and encourage all members of the hemp community to sign and share the petition with their friends, colleagues and co-workers.”

Protecting America’s Farmers and Jobs
Once Congress changes the definition, “there would be very few cases of America’s hemp farmers getting their crop destroyed. While the industry continues to work on more stable varieties, people would still have to be careful, but if we moved to 1%, the number of samples that would test hot would be very limited,” Steenstra said.

“Vote Hemp advocated for a higher level early on, but that didn’t make the cut in the final legislation that legalized hemp for the first time in 80 years,” Steenstra continued. “We had to work across the aisle and made a compromise to help make hemp legal back then, but now, it’s proven the current standard doesn’t work for farmers. With both the Farm Bureau and the National Farmers Union having policies on the books supporting higher THC levels (1% for the Farm Bureau; 3% for the Farmers Union), that weighs in our favor.”

The petition, issued this past week, beseeches Congress that “many farmers have had their crops destroyed due to the outdated definition of hemp. The hemp industry is creating good jobs in farming and manufacturing and we need to ensure the industry can continue to grow and compete with other countries that allow higher THC levels.”

“We are hoping there will be action; there’s a desperate need,” Steenstra said. “We need to get as many people involved and to recognize that this is critical to the future of the hemp industry. We need the community to step up in a big way…and quickly.”

Steenstra also emphasized that the most important thing is to get as many farmers as possible to sign the petition. “We are upset whenever we see a farmer lose their crop because of this. It’s not acceptable. We have to let Congress know that the industry is on the verge of taking off and this limit is hurting farmers and holding us back.”

Text of the Petition
Hemp is important to the future of farming in the U.S. and will create farming and manufacturing jobs for sustainable and healthy USA grown products. The 2018 Farm Bill authorized hemp production but used an outdated definition of hemp that does not work for farmers or the hemp industry. The current definition limiting hemp to 0.3% THC has proven unworkable forcing many farmers to destroy their crops because they were slightly over the limit. We need Congress to change the definition of hemp to allow up to 1% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) so that farmers can grow hemp crops without fearing that they will later have to destroy them.

Please add your name to the petition urging Congress to redefine hemp as up to 1% THC and share this with your friends.
To Congress:

I support changing the definition of hemp to allow up to 1% THC in the plant. Many farmers have had their crops destroyed due to the outdated definition of hemp. The hemp industry is creating good jobs in farming and manufacturing and we need to ensure the industry can continue to grow and compete with other countries that allow higher THC levels. I urge Congress to change the definition of hemp now so that no more farmers will lose their crops.

Read and sign Vote Hemp’s 1% Petition:

About Vote Hemp
Celebrating 20 years of hemp advocacy, Vote Hemp works on behalf of U.S. farmers and the hemp industry to promote fair laws, policy and legislation that promotes the growth of the hemp market. Vote Hemp has met with or supported meetings with thousands of policy makers over the years, and our education and advocacy work has helped change the conversation in states and in Congress about the potential of hemp to create economic opportunity for American farmers and businesses. For more information visit

Erik Rothenberg Rest in Peace

Erik Rothenberg - Rest In PeaceOur friend and larger than life hemp hero Erik Rothenberg departed this world last Thursday, surrounded by love, family and friends.

Erik is who first turned me on to and sold us our first hemp oil. He was a hemp warrior who served on the Vote Hemp board and fought side by side against DEA when they attacked the industry in 2001.

Erik also ran a successful solar company and invented a currency called URSULA that indexes and values all that is good, true and beautiful in life (see video below). He also was the author of the seminal hemp treatise “A Renewal of Common Sense”.

He stood less than 5 ft tall but was a giant among men, cruising around in style in a gorgeous jet black 1957 Bentley he lovingly called Josephine. He cheated death more than once with good humor and trickster energy.

He also took on and went to the mat with the IRS, refusing to pay taxes for twenty years and somehow arguing his way through successfully based on deep immersion in constitutional law and incredible luck, culminating in a standoff with tax agents at his home he jiu-jitzued.

So many amazing memories of a true hemp warrior and homie.

Love you brother!
David Bronner
Cosmic Engagement Officer – Dr. Bronner’s
Board Member – Vote Hemp