Utah farmers are looking at a potential new cash crop with newly legalized hemp

Posted at 3:33 PM, Sep 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-05 00:04:51-04

SANDY, Utah -- Farmers across the state are expressing some curiosity about a newly legalized crop in Utah.

The Utah Dept. of Agriculture and Food has opened a public comment period for new rules governing the growing of industrialized hemp. So far, it's intrigued some farmers as a potential new crop.

"We're always looking for opportunities in agriculture to find new products that we can grow to enhance our farm income," said Ron Gibson, the president of the Utah Farm Bureau.

Gibson told FOX 13 that local farmers have expressed interest in getting in on hemp.

"I've had several producers talk to me about maybe this is an opportunity for them and their farms and maybe it's something they can do," he said.

Earlier this year, the Utah State Legislature passed a series of bills on marijuana. One legalized the growing of industrialized hemp, another legalized CBD oil and another gave terminally ill patients a "right to try" medical cannabis. The Utah Dept. of Agriculture and Food was tasked with enacting rules for all of it.

Those rules have been published with a 30-day public comment window.

To grow hemp in Utah, farmers and small-scale cultivators will have to register with the state and pay a $500 or $1,000 fee. They'll tell the state what type of seed they're using and it cannot exceed .3% THC (anything above .3 will be destroyed).

"They couldn't grow within 1,000 feet of a school or a park," said Scott Ericson, the deputy commissioner of the Utah Dept. of Agriculture and Food. "But besides that, they can largely grow the product as long as they tell us what they're doing with it and what use they have for it on the backend."

The Utah Dept. of Agriculture and Food was looking at it as a scientific experiment. No one has really attempted to grow hemp in a professional farm setting in the state, and state officials are curious to see what soil and growing conditions are best. Agriculture officials are urging farmers who start growing hemp to start small.

"Most farmers, when they try a new crop, they're learning from it and industrial hemp is unique because there isn't farmer's insurance, there aren't some the available resources there is for other crops. Different varieties will grow different here than in Kentucky," Ericson told FOX 13.

Farmers who FOX 13 contacted were reluctant to go on the record about their interest in growing hemp, raising concerns about personal security and the connotation with marijuana itself.  (Utah voters in November will decide Proposition 2, which seeks to legalize medical marijuana.)

"We're not talking necessarily here about marijuana and medical marijuana," Gibson said. "It's a fiber source here. There's a lot of different opportunities and a lot of different uses for industrial hemp."

The state is also seeking public comment on a product already being sold in Utah: CBD oil. Under a new law that legalized it, the state will be requiring companies who make it to register with the state and submit to testing. Ericson said it was a consumer safety issue.

"So many of them have labels on them, but nobody is checking the label to verify what it says on the label is in the product," he said. "We'll be the first to do that."

CBD oil under Utah law must be at the same level as hemp, with a .3% THC content.

"If it's not, we can pull it off the shelves," Ericson said.

Companies have already started contacting the state to ensure compliance once the rules go into effect. Ericson said there have been instances where people have not gotten what they believed they were purchasing.

"We want to make sure that consumers have the opportunity to purchase what they expect," he said.

To offer public comment on CBD oil or industrialized hemp, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food said it prefers written remarks that are on-topic to the rules being proposed. If there are no substantive changes, the rules are expected to take effect in mid-October.

Here's a link to comment on the proposed rules.