A promising opportunity is knocking on Iowa's door this year in the form of a new crop option for farmers.
The state shouldn't let it slip away.
The new federal farm bill passed by Congress in December legalized production of hemp - a variety of cannabis without psychoactive impact - as an agriculture commodity by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act. Under the legislation, industrial hemp can't contain more than 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (the compound in a cannabis plant associated with getting a high). Any plant with more than 0.3 percent THC is considered non-hemp cannabis, or marijuana, and is unprotected by the new legislation.
Hemp is connected to "thousands" of products, including human food, pet food and bedding, body oils and lotions, oil for candles, lanterns, and paint, clothing, plastic, paper, construction materials like cement, and fuel, according to CannabisReports.
Full federal legalization is expected to produce a dramatic increase in hemp production across the nation. By 2022, the Hemp Business Journal reports, hemp could be a $1.9 billion market.
"There will be a windfall of investment coming into this industry, from every direction, and we need to make Iowa a magnet," Ethan Vorhes, a Marble Rock, Iowa, cattle producer who wants to grow hemp, told The Des Moines Register.
Under the new farm bill, an individual state can submit its own hemp cultivation regulatory plan to the United States Department of Agriculture for approval. USDA will have 60 days to approve or reject a state's plan. States which do not submit a plan will be subject to USDA's as-yet-unwritten regulations.
Production of hemp requires proper administrative rules, including a necessary provision for production inspections, but we believe the effort is worth the potential rewards for the agriculture sector of Iowa and the state as a whole. As one of the nation's agriculture leaders and a state with deep knowledge and experience in implementation and oversight of farm programs, Iowa is in prime position to become a significant player in the industrial hemp game.
Many states participate in pilot hemp production research programs permitted under the 2014 farm bill, but Iowa isn't one of them and, as a result, is behind much of the nation on hemp today.
We urge lawmakers of both parties and both chambers at the Statehouse to embrace the process of catching up with the goal of submitting a hemp plan to USDA this year.