The Tennessee Department of Agriculture has announced that updated rules and modified permitting requirements are being applied to the state’s budding hemp-growing industry.

In a department press release issued Monday, state ag commissioner Charlie Hatch said hemp regulations have been changing at the federal level, and as a result Tennessee is “updating our program rules to be more consistent with how other crop programs are managed.”

The 2018 Farm Bill passed by Congress and signed by President Trump removed hemp from the federal controlled-substances list. Nevertheless, it’s still against federal and state law to grow even nonpsychoactive cannabis without a state-issued license.

In wake of the federal government’s loosening of hemp-growing restrictions, there’s been a massive expansion of interest in growing hemp just over the last year.

This year, the department has licensed more than 2,900 hemp growers  — whereas in 2018 TDA issued just 226 licenses.

Last season, Tennessee growers produced a state total of 1,034 acres of planted legal cannabis strains. Tennessee’s largest field was a 250-plot grown for fiber in Macon County, according to the department.

Tennessee hemp farmers last year spent on average about $2,301 per acre cultivating their crops, a 2018 TDA survey reported.

“The three top expenses were land, equipment and labor,” the survey found. “Growers spent the least on acreage fees, inspections, and interest. The largest market appears to be in hemp oil high in cannabinoids.”

Department of agriculture officials say the new changes to the hemp program will “better serve hemp producers.”

Among the regulatory shifts is an elimination of application-period deadlines for obtaining a license to grow hemp. That process is now open year-round.

In addition, the state will no longer issue certifications for seed breeders. However, anyone marketing seed should seek licensing through TDA’s Ag Inputs section.

Also, hemp processors — unlike growers — won’t in the future be required to register through the state. Growers, on the other hand, will not only need to acquire “movement permits” when transporting rooted live plants, they’ll also be required to obtain official government permission and paperwork for transporting harvested hemp from a grow site.

Tennessee lawmakers in 2014 authorized the state Department of Agriculture to develop a licensing and inspection program for the production of hemp in Tennessee.

“Hemp has been an important crop throughout the history of the U.S., and to a certain extent in Tennessee,” according to TDA’s website.

In the 1800s, hemp fields were a common sight in Middle Tennessee.

“Although industrial hemp contains very little of the hallucinogenic properties of marijuana, production and processing declined after World War II with the passage of state and federal laws aimed at regulating the narcotic varieties of Cannabis,” says TDA’s hemp history info page. “Its decline was further accelerated with the development and availability of cheap synthetic fibers. Also, the resurgence of cotton production in the deep South was likely a contributing factor to hemp’s decline.”

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