NIHC 2022 Business, Farm and Research Summit: Day One

August 23, 2022

Greetings from Corvallis, Oregon, and the home of the hemp industry’s most exciting research institutions, the Global Hemp Innovation Center (GHIC) at Oregon State University. 

To kick off the first day of our Business, Farm, and Research Summit, NIHC President and CEO Patrick Atagi started the summit by talking about the promise of hemp in the context of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which are the necessities that humans must have to survive. 

“Words matter,” Atagi said before pointing out how hemp is food, shelter, clothing, and medicine.  

Atagi also updated attendees on the status of NIHC’s work in partnering with the USDA. For this year, NIHC has received $1.1 million in grants from the agency for everything for the promotion of U.S. hemp in the international marketplace through the Foreign Agriculture Service’s Market Access Program, funding for a life cycle analysis (which NIHC is currently accepting RFPs) and for the development of an international database of regulatory requirements for hemp. 

With that, Atagi laid the foundation for two days’ worth of discussions about the economic opportunities that can be found through the climate-smart cultivation of hemp. 

After welcoming everyone to NIHC, Atagi turned the podium over to Dr. Staci Simonich, who is the Dean of Oregon State University’s College of Agriculture Sciences, who provided an overview of the exciting research happening at the Global Hemp Innovation Center. 

Panel One: Hemp Outlook and State Policy

There has been a flurry of activity at the state level, particularly in Oregon. For the Summit’s first panel, we heard from Courtney Moran, President of the Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association, and Sunny Summers, the Senior Policy Advisor to the Director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, about the outlook for state and federal hemp policy. 

Summers started the discussion by noting that even with the 

decrease in hemp licenses in the state of Oregon, she remained optimistic. She said that most Oregon licenses were for cannabinoid production and little for fiber and grain. 

“I would love to see more grain and fiber production,” Summers said. 

Summers noted that there was concern that many of the licenses for hemp were growers who were growing higher-THC cannabis under the guise of hemp. She says that might account for the significant drop in hemp licenses. Summers also noted that the state legislature in Oregon wanted the ODA to increase hemp testing and that there would be an increase in licensing fees. 

Moran talked about the challenges of how to work together not just in the industry but with policymakers, regulators, and law enforcement to overcome the challenges the industry faces.  She also noted that it was important to find sustainable policy solutions to grow the industry while making Oregon a model for how to regulate hemp to the rest of the country.  

Panel Two: What Every Hemp Grower Needs to Know About Evolving Laws and Regulations Impacting the Industry

After the most exciting agriculture opportunity in 100 years was passed and hemp was made legal in the 2018 Farm Bill, many states got to work promulgating a patchwork of confusing and sometimes contradictory regulations that have caused frustration and angst within the hemp industry. 

Attorneys Christopher Strunk, Sarah Turner, and Stacy Moon of Gordon, Rees, Scully, and Mansukhani broke down the evolving state of hemp’s regulatory regime by helping everyone understand how to comply with existing laws and regulations, including the environmental laws that predated the legalization of hemp. 

Strunk said clearly and bluntly that federal regulations had not kept pace with the speed of market innovation before giving a rundown of various federal and state hemp laws for hemp operators to consider.

Strunk then turned it over to his colleague Sarah Turner who addressed important legal issues for hemp operators to consider as it relates to the laws that govern their employees.  

Lastly, Stacy Moon from GRSM addressed the legal challenges of hemp. She noted that hemp, while permitted under the 2018 Farm Bill’s definition of .3 percent delta-9 THC on a dry weight basis, could still be considered illegal under state and local laws if it does not meet local regulations. Moon warned that if you are found to violate state or local laws, it can be held against you, and you can be held negligent in any court proceedings. 

The team from GRSM advised hemp operators don’t try to comply with the laws yourself; it’s best to hire legal representation to ensure full compliance so that hemp growers full focus can be on running their businesses.

The Economics of Hemp

In what’s become a staple of NIHC events, our Chief Economist Beau Whitney of Whitney Economics shared his latest economic trends for the hemp industry and the impact of investment, infrastructure, and regulations are having on the industry’s verticals. 

Whitney noted that the hemp inventory for cannabinoid biomass had been reduced by 70 percent. Whitney attributed the declining inventory to the growth in the delta-8 THC market and noted that

 with the promulgation of rules and regulations governing or prohibiting the sale of delta-8 THC. Whitney suggests that delta-8 “might be a one-hit-wonder.”

Whitney also showed data that 44 percent of growers didn’t have a buyer for their crop. He suggested that it’s essential for the hemp industry to support the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) at USDA.

“It is essential for the hemp industry to continue and expand its support for USDA / NASS data collection. They are the data of record moving forward,” Whitney said.

Whitney also provided an analysis of the Cannabis Administration, and Opportunity Act (CAOA) introduced earlier this year by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ) that would legalize the adult use of cannabis market. If applied to last year’s hemp market, the CAOA would result in the loss of 11,200 farms, 4,418 processors, and the elimination of 51,069 agriculture-related jobs in the hemp industry. 

Despite all of this, “the future of hemp is very bright,” Whitney concluded while noting he projects upwards of 8 million acres of hemp for harvest by the end of the decade. 

Sequestration, Carbon Credits, and the Hemp Industry

With hemp as a significant carbon sequestering plant, it can be a player in carbon sequestration. It’s estimated that the 2027 value projection for the carbon market will be $6.13 million, and hemp companies are making a move. 

Julie Lerner, the Chief Executive Officer of PanXchange, says, “Hemp is an exceptionally carbon-friendly crop.”

Lerner notes that consumers are looking for carbon smart alternatives, and the Fortune 500 companies are beginning to make that a key component of their corporate responsibility campaigns. And like Whitney, she says the future is bright. 

However, Lerner notes that the most crucial thing stakeholders in the hemp industry can do is educate themselves about carbon. First, people must understand the economic feasibility of soil carbon sequestration. Secondly, understand how soil and farming practices impact sequestration rates.

Lastly, Lerner suggests understanding industrial hemp’s effect on carbon sequestration and program feasibility. 

NIHC Verify is Here!

Last fall, NIHC announced its intention to launch a pilot program establishing standards for product testing protocols and laboratories. Earlier this year, NIHC continued the effort by signing an MOU with ASTM to develop the ASTM HempQ + NIHC Verification Program. 

This afternoon at the NIHC 2022 Business, Farm, and Research Summit, NIHC announced that NIHC Verify is here. 

“Everything NIHC does is focused on consumer safety,” said NIHC President and CEO Patrick Atagi. “We believe consumers have the right to know what’s in their product and the right to feel safe. NIHC Verify sets the standard for consumers seeking the safe use of hemp derivatives and provides the missing framework for regulators seeking to regulate hemp derivatives.”

The NIHC Verify program is centered around the five pillars of safety that include testing for potency, pesticides, heavy metals, microbiologicals, and residual solvents. Designed with consumer health and safety in mind, the ASTM +NIHC HEMPQ laboratory certification program is the first independent program utilizing Good Laboratory Practices (GLP), specifically highlighting safety in the hemp industry. Program requirements are reviewed and managed by the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI), an affiliate of ASTM International; this program was formed with input by state Attorneys General and other law enforcement agencies. The NIHC Verify program is operated by NIHC and takes the first step toward product safety.

“A common issue within the hemp and cannabis industry revolves around product testing

 consistency. We often hear how the same product tested at different labs will each produce different results.,” said Lakshmy Mahon, President of Global Data Vision and the lead on the NIHC Verify Program. “At NIHC, our goal is two-fold. The first is consistent testing, so consumers have confidence in the hemp products they buy. The second goal is transparency, which aligns with NIHC’s mission to empower consumers with information.” 

The ASTM +NIHC Certification incorporates ASTM’S 16 standards for overall lab safety practices, including product quality controls, quality management systems, and testing methodologies, along with testing for the five pillars developed by NIHC. Once labs have met these rigorous standards and have completed the corresponding audit, manufacturers/producers/retailers can apply for the NIHC Verify seal that may be used on product packaging. This is the first step in ensuring that products are tested within labs that meet the highest possible standards. 

The benefits of the program will allow participants to minimize risks while remaining ahead of regulatory requirements; demonstrate testing commitment to consumer and patient health and safety; scientifically verify testing facilities adhere to the strictest industry safety standards, and leverage ASTM’s Quality System GxP Certification Platform to track and manage data.

As part of NIHC Verify, NIHC and Global Data Vision have released an online global database of certified labs for hemp, higher-THC cannabis, and medical marijuana labs that can be viewed at https://nihc.theglobaldirectory.org.

Mahon noted that a website for the NIHC Veriy program is coming online in the next couple of days that includes more information including how to sign up for the program. Stay tuned to further emails from NIHC about how to sign up!

Panel 3: Impacts of Cultivation on Enforcement, Communities, and Environment 

States and the hemp industry are facing a new threat – drug cartels. 

In Oregon, one county code enforcement department is overwhelmed by illegal marijuana activity, with 70% of code enforcement claims related to the marijuana industry. The county’s watermaster is also inundated with marijuana-related water theft claims. 

Courtney Moran of the Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association; Jack Johnstone, the Deputy Division Administrator for the Oregon Water Resources Department, Rob Obvett of the Oregon Cannabis Task Force; and Sherriff Nate Sickler of Jackson County, Oregon, discussed how farmers, regulators, and law enforcement can work together to combat this threat to hemp farmers in Oregon. 

Sheriff Sickler talked about how his county has been at the forefront of the black market with hemp licensees growing higher-THC cannabis. He pointed out how heavy cartel activity was in his county last year.  But this year, only one-third of the number of licensees as there was last year. Sickler said that 53% of the ODA licenses in 2021 were operating illegally in the marijuana black market. 

“We’re on the side of the hemp industry that wants to do things right. What we have an issue with is the black market,” Sickler said. 

Obvett talked about the checks and balances implemented as part of Oregon’s House Bill 3000 that sought to enforce stricter regulations on the Oregon hemp industry to crack down on bad actors growing marijuana under the name of hemp. 

“I’m not ready to measure that quite yet,” Obvett said about the success of House Bill 3000 but noted that the more vigorous enforcement has led to other quantifiable measures, including more water for local farmers and safer communities. 

Johnstone noted that before House Bill 3000, there were a considerable amount of water complaints associated with illegal cannabis grows. Still, when that legislation became law, it gave the Oregon Water Resources Department more resources by funding 14 additional inspectors. 

“With 14 additional sets of eyes, we have more resources to address issues proactively while also responding to other inquiries,” Johnstone said. 

Obvett noted, “We need more tools and more funding” to crack down on the black market. 

Sickler elaborated further and concluded that law enforcement needs ten-year funding, noting that he has trained staff, and they’re working and making a difference in the field. But if the funding runs out, he has to lay off those employees, and if that were to happen, that doesn’t address any of the community’s safety concerns. 

Panel 4: Animal Feed and Addressing the Global Need and the Path Forward

The NIHC believes that the current profile of research from around the world, including small research projects in the U.S., provides sufficient data to prove that hemp seed is a safe and effective feed ingredient. 

Hemp must be, above all, safe for livestock and companion animals. 

On the heels of the successful webinar with the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) two weeks ago, NIHC continued the discussion with Hollis Glenn, the Deputy Commissioner for Operations at the Colorado Department of Agriculture; NIHC Government Affairs Co-Chair and President of Delta Agriculture Graham Owens; and Hunter Buffington, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at element6 Dynamics (formerly Santa Fe Farms). 

Buffington reiterated the importance of collaborating with research focused on safety and repeatedly made the point that when discussing hemp as animal feed, we’re not talking about cannabinoids. Instead, the industry is referencing grain.  Buffington added that hemp’s safety in animal feed included the security of the human food supply and adhering to animal welfare standards. 

Glenn, representing AAFCO, hailed the importance of the ongoing discussions between AAFCO and NIHC that came out of the webinar.

“This was an important and critical step,” Glenn said of getting animal feed approved as an ingredient. 

Glenn also reiterated the AAFCO President’s statement that ended the webinar that AAFCO as an organization wants to see hemp as an improved ingredient in animal feed. 

“AAFCO isn’t anti-hemp,” Glenn said. “We need a national solution.”

Owens noted some of the challenges for the grain industry, including the war in Ukraine, where 25 percent of the global grain supply comes from, climate change and drought, and the supply chain disruption from COVID. But Owens noted that some of the challenges present opportunities for the domestic hemp industry to help create solutions to the global grain shortage. 

Owens noted that it’s essential to build relationships within the broader ag community, so other commodity groups don’t put up roadblocks to hemp as a viable option for animal feed. 

“We want them to see us as partners,” Owens said.

USDA: Fundamental Hemp Market Issues and Opportunities

Davis noted that at USDA, they understand the challenge of the hemp industry, which unlike other commodity programs – has only been through one farm bill and operating with a rule that was just implemented last year. 

To wrap up the day, attendees heard from Graham Davis, Agriculture Marketing Specialist for the USDA Domestic Hemp Production Program. Davis gave an overview of the hemp program, some challenges they’re facing, and the opportunities ahead for the domestic hemp industry. 

“It’s an emerging program and emerging industry,” Davis said. 

Davis opened up to the audience for questions and answers and asked about some of the biggest challenges for the industry, and was met with a word that he heard repeatedly throughout the day – testing. 

In his answer, Davis noted all of the different uses of the hemp, and testing was a requirement for nearly all of them. 

“There is no crop as dynamic as hemp,” Davis said. “It’s not a one size fits all system, and we’re trying to regulate something like hemp, which has multiple uses.”

Davis noted that there are multiple legislative proposals for the next Farm Bill. He said he has heard in the room at the 2022 NIHC Business, Farm, and Research Summit and the industry at large that the two most significant proposals include redefining hemp and the testing requirements.  He noted it will be interesting to see where those end up in the 2023 Farm Bill. 

Davis wrapped up his comments that, again, hemp has so many dynamic uses that make regulating it very confusing but also very exciting.