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Changes to Missouri’s fledgling hemp program signed into law

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — With the signature of the acting governor, Missouri universities can start cultivating and researching hemp to collect data on the crop before farmers begin planting next year.

On Monday, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, who is serving as acting governor until July 2, signed SB 133 — an all-encompassing agriculture bill that included provisions on industrial hemp. 

The alterations, championed by Republican Rep. Rick Francis and Sen. Denny Hoskins, update the language in Missouri statute to be consistent with the standards laid out in the U.S. 2018 Farm Bill. It also removes acreage restrictions on the cop and includes an emergency clause allowing universities to plant and research hemp this year. 

“We worked closely with the universities to ensure the language would authorize them to conduct research that will be available before the first growing season — something we believe will be an invaluable asset,” Francis said in a statement. 

“Though it will be a late start in the planting season, Tiger Fiber is working in close partnership with the University of Missouri on a pilot program to demonstrate the benefits of hemp production for several varieties of hemp this year,” Patrick Van Meter, CEO of Tiger Fiber in St. Louis, said in a statement. 

Tom Raffety, president of the Missouri Hemp Producers Association noted research is vital to “position Missouri as a leading state in an industry projected to exceed $20 billion by 2024.”

Depending on the variety of hemp planted — including whether it is photoperiod or autoflowering — the crop can take anywhere from 64 to nearly 120 days from planting to harvest. Like with other crops, harvesting needs to be completed before heavy fall rains. 

Hemp, while legal in a multitude of other states, was only recently legalized in Missouri. 

In 2018, the Missouri General Assembly authorized a pilot program in Missouri for hemp — as outlined in the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill. Under the Industrial Hemp Agricultural Pilot Program, production was limited to 2,000 acres statewide and to 10 acres to 40 acres per farmer — except for research purposes.

SB 133 included provisions repealing the pilot program and removing the acreage restrictions on cultivating hemp. It also brings Missouri’s statutes in line with federal requirements. 

“Passage of hemp legislation to take off the caps will allow hard-working Missouri farmers to fully participate in this exciting new commodity,” Hoskins, who sponsored the Senate version of the legislation, previously told The Missouri Times. 

Farmers will be required to undergo a background check, obtain a permit from the Department of Agriculture, and submit to random testing of the crop. Individuals with a felony record could be approved to grow hemp if the offense is older than 10 years.

The bill the hemp legislation is attached to also repeals the Missouri Treated Timber Law, allows for the assessment of civil penalties for violating statutes relating to eggs, and requires sawmills be classified as agricultural property. 

SB 133 also creates the “Pesticide Education Fund,” which shall be used to provide funding for pesticide applicator certification programs, pesticide education programs, and pesticide waste and container disposal programs.

Kehoe is serving as acting governor until July 2 as Gov. Mike Parson is overseas on a personal vacation with his wife. While the terms of the agreement stress Kehoe is not to sign bills without Parson’s express written consent, Missouri’s chief executive did already give Kehoe permission to approve a few pieces of legislation.

Parson appointed Kehoe to lieutenant governor in June 2018. He previously served as a state senator where he held a variety of leadership positions — from majority floor leader to chairing committees.