Rockford's Independent Newspaper

Illinois ag officials to begin testing hemp fields for THC levels

By Greg Bishop

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Department of Agriculture is preparing to perform spot checks as it starts to get reports from Illinois’ first-ever hemp growers that they’re ready to harvest.

That means farmers looking to cash in on growing hemp in Illinois are taking a gamble. While they may get crop insurance for damaged hemp fields, they’re out of luck if the state orders their fields to be destroyed.

Hemp can be used for oils and fibers. It’s the sister plant to marijuana in the cannabis family, but has a much lower concentration of the psychoactive component THC. The federal government and Illinois state government approved hemp cultivation for this year, but put limits on the allowable THC levels.

Illinois Department of Agriculture Director John Sullivan said the growing season is coming to an end and it beat expectations.

“I think we ended up with over 22,000 acres that were permitted, or approved for permitting,” Sullivan said.

State officials will have more accurate numbers on the yields after the harvest is completed. But there have already been signs that some of the crops were lost. Sullivan said one of the challenges for all crops, including hemp, was the weather. He said one farmer he talked to planted several thousand hemp plants.

“And then he got a six-inch rain right after he planted it and he lost about half of them so it’s been a tough year for hemp growers as well just because of the weather,” Sullivan said.

Growers are required to notify the state before they harvest. The state then sends investigators to randomly test for THC content.

“So right now we’re sticking to our knowledge, we’ve been told and instructed and per our rules and regulations and statutes, that 0.3 [percent THC] is the number that we’re going off of,” Sullivan said. “It’s pretty straight forward, [the crop] has to be destroyed. No exceptions to that.”

If a crop is ordered destroyed by the state because of higher than allowable THC content, farmers would not be eligible for federal crop insurance.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said its policy is that hemp with THC above the compliance level will not constitute an insurable cause of loss.

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