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20 Years Later: Freedom to Farm Hemp

In 1998, the rest of the United States looked on with anticipation as Missouri lawmakers contemplated legislation that would have allowed industrial hemp research to begin at the University of Missouri. If signed into law, the bill would have paved the way to restore industrial hemp as a crop for farmers and a feedstock for industry.  

A fledgling industry had arisen around the crop. Seed, fiber and other materials were being imported into the U.S., tariff-free under GATT and NAFTA. Stakeholders in agriculture and industry were asking the question, “If Canada can, why don’t we have the freedom to?” 

An industry magazine, “Hemp Times,” ran an article in December 1998 with the headline “Missouri, the first state of hemp.” The article outlined the long history of hemp in Missouri, from The Battle of the Hemp Bales in Lexington, all the way up through World War II. Before the 1990s, few people in the modern industry and agriculture discussed hemp’s potential or realized the historical significance.  Hemp had played a crucial role in the development and preservation of The United States and had been a mainstay food and fiber crop, from colonial times all the way up until the 1940s. 

Although the climate in Missouri for producing hemp was excellent, the political climate was not so conducive. DEA requirements at the time were so restrictive that the cost of doing research outweighed the near-term benefits. More education and market development were needed to bring the new industry to life. The public mostly knew of only the old uses for hemp, with rope often being a person’s initial thought. 

However, a new era was dawning. Hemp was more than a crop for rope. Multiple uses were being developed including paper, building materials, composites, and body care products. The list went on. Although some people saw the vision of what the industry could be, few were willing to step out into the new frontier.

Fast forward to more recent history. The 2014 farm bill officially opened the gate to the new frontier. It allowed states and institutions of higher learning to develop pilot programs for researching industrial hemp. Some states saw this as an opportunity to help a fledgling industry grow while creating real-world production and market information. Missouri, on the other hand, chose to take a “Show Me” approach. Only a limited program was put in place to produce hemp CBD oil for approved patients.

Although many people have worked hard since 2014 to make the hemp opportunity a reality in Missouri, progress was slow. Eventually, legislation was passed in 2018 to allow for a pilot program to be put in place. Although it created the pilot program, there were no appropriations and the Department of Agriculture had not given adequate authority to act.  Furthermore, it mandated restrictive acreage caps in the state and prohibited small scale research plots and greenhouse operations.  

With the passage of the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, which was a part of the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress has legitimized hemp as a crop.  The new law gives states the opportunity to submit plans whereby farmers, industries, and consumers can produce, process and consume hemp products.

House Bill 824, under consideration in Jefferson City that would bring the Missouri program into compliance with the 2018 Farm Bill.  Not only would it be congruent with The Hemp Farming Act of 2018, but it would also remove the acreage restrictions giving Missouri farmers the freedom to compete in the rapidly growing industrial hemp market. By acting now, Missouri can position itself to once again be at the forefront of the hemp industry.