2023 Farm Bill

This may be a historic moment for hemp.

As the 2023 Farm Bill deliberations approach, American hemp leaders “are united behind a plan of action,” noted the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) in Vancouver, WA, recently. “And this unprecedented alliance among 31 nonprofit hemp organizations portends promise for congressional enactment of the industry’s agenda.”

Those unfamiliar with the Farm Bill may not know that it is an amalgam of legislation regularly voted on collectively that comes before Congress about every five years. The omnibus outlines support programs for farmers and puts in place a collection of agricultural and related programs and measures. The last farm bill, called the Agricultural Improvement Act, was passed in 2018.

There is, however, one slight problem. Thus far, it’s not happening.

A recent Purdue University survey showed that two out of three crop and livestock producers say they are uncertain or believe Congress is unlikely to enact a new farm bill this year. Neither the Senate nor House Agriculture committees have release a preliminary version of the bill or even scheduled a bill-drafting session. And the respected Ag Economy Barometer reported that 32% of farmers said a farm bill was “very unlikely” or “somewhat unlikely” this year, and 35% were “uncertain.”

Other industry insiders are also wary that a farm bill will be forthcoming any time soon. According to the Food and Environment Reporting Network’s Ag Insider, 67% of those questioned as part of its latest survey said they felt a farm bill was unlikely this year or were uncertain if passage would even take place. That was up seven percentage points in one month. Only one-third suggested that such a bill in 2023 was “somewhat likely” or “very likely.”

At press time, the Senate and House Ag committees were facing delays in drafting the next farm bill which, at $1.5 trillion, is projected to be the most expensive ever (the 2018 Farm Bill crossed the finish line at a mere $867 billion). House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced in June that Republicans would look for additional changes in work requirements or other reforms. “Previously,” noted Ag Informer, “the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills experienced delays, both due to conflicts over the SNAP program, which represents $4 out of every $5 in the legislation.” Eventually, however, it will be completed and passed. And for hemp, that will be the historic part.

Priority Policy

Months ago, three of the nation’s leading hemp organizations – HIA, National Industrial Hemp Council (NIHC) and U.S. Hemp Roundtable (USHR) – joined in collaboration for the first time to develop a series of policy priorities for enactment in the 2023 Farm Bill, HIA said in a release.

The three groups then asked industry leader Morris Beegle, co-founder and President of We Are For Better Alternatives (WAFBA), to convene a meeting of more than 75 key hemp stakeholders at the leading national hemp gathering that he produces, the NoCo Hemp Expo.

“After an intense discussion and follow-up breakout groups to expound on the deliberations, a priority policy document was finalized,” HIA said. Since then, 31 state, regional and national nonprofit organizations have signed on in support. The document lists nine key policy priorities for consideration by Congress. These include requiring FDA to regulate hemp extracts such as CBD; easing the regulatory burden on hemp farmers; repealing the hemp felon ban from the 2018 Farm Bill; and addressing THC limits for hemp.

This document is being shared with key members of Congress and will serve as the foundation for drafting legislative language to be included in the Farm Bill.

NIHC President and CEO Patrick Atagi praised the work of the hemp industry for broadly coming together to endorse hemp priorities and hemp-specific Farm Bill priorities. “Working Together Works are true words taught to me by my mentor, former USDA Undersecretary William ‘Bill’ Hawks,” Atagi said. “I am glad to see the hemp industry come together; it is a sign of great things to come.”

“This is an historic moment for hemp,” concluded Jonathan Miller, USHR’s General Counsel. “The five years since legalization have been challenging, and the 2023 Farm Bill is our next and best opportunity to take this industry a step forward. The unity within the industry is remarkable and telling. Our shared voice will resonate with Congress and help us turn this opportunity into meaningful progress for hemp farmers and product consumers.”

Added Beegle, “The last five years have taught us a lot, and more than anything, that we as stakeholders need to align our interests and our voices going into the 2023 Farm Bill so that we correct the regulatory deficiencies that have plagued the growth and development of this nascent industry. I’m optimistic and encouraged by so many organizations coming together at this time to collaborate and work in unison to improve the future of the hemp industry."