Harvesting Hemp

On Sept. 25, 2016, Mark Justh, left, and Dan Dolgin, right, stand beside a field of industrial hemp on their JD Farms in Eaton, N.Y. JD Farms in central New York harvested the state’s first legal hemp this fall under a university research partnership. (AP Photo/Mary Esch)

During a swing through upstate New York, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to designate industrial hemp a specialty crop — a move that would allow farmers to obtain critical crop insurance coverage. 

Gillibrand, D-N.Y., visited JD Farms in Eaton, Madison County, to announce her support for expanding crop insurance coverage to include New York industrial hemp farmers. JD Farms was the first to grow industrial hemp in New York in more than 80 years. To grow hemp, the farm entered into a pilot program with Morrisville State College. 

But what hemp farmers currently lack is crop insurance. The coverage is important, especially if a crop is damaged due to a disaster or inclement weather. 

Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, wants to change that. 

"If our farmers are going to invest their resources to grow industrial hemp and help build our local economy, they should have the peace of mind that their investments are going to be protected if a natural disaster comes and wipes out their harvest," she said. 

In the last session of Congress, Gillibrand cosponsored the Industrial Hemp Farming Act. The bill would remove industrial hemp from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act and details the attorney general's role in ensuring states are abiding by federal standards for industrial hemp production. 

The legislation didn't advance in Congress. 

The production of industrial hemp, which can be used to manufacture products ranging from apparel to cosmetics, is permitted in New York. This year, the state budget included a provision lifting the cap on the number of industrial hemp research permits. 

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that recognizes industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity in New York. He also announced $10 million in state funding to support industrial hemp research and launched a working group to advise state officials on hemp policies. 

But the federal support is needed. Insurance is available for many other crops grown by New York farmers. That's not the case for industrial hemp. 

"Hemp is a value-laden crop that, if treated like a legitimate agricultural commodity, can provide farmers access to a high growth market," said Dan Dolgin, co-owner of JD Farms. "As such, it is critical that farmers receive the same protections against increased weather volatility experienced worldwide." 

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