Nebraska opens licensing process for would-be hemp farmers, processors

 
 

LINCOLN — Would-be hemp farmers and processors finally have their chance to put some seed in the ground and reap a legal harvest in Nebraska.

The State Department of Agriculture on Friday started accepting licensing applications for the 2019 growing season.

People interested in growing, harvesting and processing hemp this year have until 5 p.m. June 28 to apply.

But a pair of hemp advocates urged people to proceed cautiously, given the short timeline and the many unknowns.

“I want to be positive. I think it’s great they finally did something,” Bill Ekeler of Blair said before adding: “There’s so much that needs to be sorted out yet.”

Andrew Bish of Giltner said the deadline for submitting applications may not be long enough for some people.

But he said the process should allow some farmers to play around with the crop and see what strains of hemp grow well in Nebraska and what cultivation methods work best.

“We’ve got a window of opportunity here,” he said.

Legislative Bill 657, introduced by State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha and passed by the Legislature this spring, legalized industrial hemp and its products in Nebraska.

The bill provides for the licensing and regulation of the new crop, following the steps spelled out in last year’s federal farm bill. It also creates the Nebraska Hemp Commission to promote hemp and its products.

But setting up a regulatory structure will take months and requires approval from the federal government.

In the meantime, the bill allows for licensed growers and processors to partner with University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers during the 2019 growing season. Results of that research could help shape the regulatory plan developed by state agriculture officials.

The practical cousin of marijuana, hemp is defined as strains of the cannabis plant that are less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical with higher concentrations in other cannabis strains that produces intoxicating effects.

To get a license, applicants must be at least 18 years old and submit criminal background check information showing that they have had no felony drug convictions for 10 years.

The application requires information on the source of seed and a detailed description of the growing site. Applicants must describe the research they plan to undertake with their 2019 crop. They also must agree to let state agriculture inspectors visit their sites and to pay for testing of the hemp.

People selected for a license must pay an application fee of $100 and a site fee of $400 for growers or $800 for processors.

Licensing applications and more information are available at nda.nebraska.gov/hemp.

Growing, handling or processing hemp without a signed license agreement from the state remains illegal in Nebraska. The only exception is for heirloom cannabis plants or seeds, meaning the kinds of cannabis native to Nebraska and found growing wild, as long as they are not grown for commercial purposes.