As more states green-light industrial hemp, increasing numbers of wannabe growers are breaking ground. Unfortunately, some predatory vendors are taking advantage of those seeking hemp seed. “It’s a new industry,” explains Don Robison, Seed Administrator for the Office of the Indiana State Chemist. “In any new industry, you’re going to get fraud coming in.”
Across the country, some unlucky customers have paid for seed—only to get nothing in return. Still others may think they’re growing a low-THC hemp product—only to discover that they’ve got a (not-so-legal) field full of medical-grade pot on their hands. That recently happened to one Indiana hemp grower.
“The buyer thought he was buying and growing hemp, but instead he grew a crop with 17 percent THC,” Robison noted via a recent Midwest Hemp Council news release.
Indiana state police were called and the crop had to be destroyed. Meanwhile, the farmer lost the cost of the seed and potential crop profits.
Worse yet? “The person who bought that seed asked all the right questions,” Robison recalls. “They did ask what the THC level was of that variety. They did ask specifically, ‘Is this a variety that is low-THC and can legally be called hemp or is it a marijuana variety?’”
Trust But Verify
Besides questioning prospective vendors about their seed varieties and the associated THC-content of those varieties, request references. “Ask the seed supplier, ‘Can you give me the names of five people who have bought your seed before, so that I can call them?’” Robison suggests.
You should also check with your state seed regulatory official to determine whether a prospective vendor is properly credentialed. For instance, to be permitted in the state of Indiana, Robison says hemp seed sellers must have their seed tested for percent purity, percent noxious weeds and percent THC, as well as the seed’s germination rate.
The product must be labeled in a specific way, too.
You can consult the American Association of Seed Control Officials online directory to find contact details for your state agency. “The membership directory lists all of the states,” Robison says.
He adds, “Most seed control officials would prefer an email rather than a phone call, so that they can be more thorough in answering.” Corresponding in writing with both regulatory officials and seed vendors also can further protect you in the event that there is a problem with your hemp crop.
When possible, you might also choose Certified seed. Certified seed purveyors adhere to strict standards and are subject to inspections by a member of the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies.
Certified vendors must isolate their hemp crops from other hemp crops which may be growing nearby. They also must document and verify information on seed source, purity, weed content and more.
“If you’re going to grow [hemp] for CBD (cannabidiol oil), there are very few Certified varieties in the country—in Canada or in the U.S.,” Robison admits. “That’s because the genetics and the breeding programs aren’t far enough along yet.”
However, if you want to grow hemp for fiber or grain, you have more Certified seed options. “Canada is way ahead of us on that, because they have had legal hemp for, I think, about a dozen years,” Robison says. As such, you might look to Canada for Certified seed for hemp fiber or grain production.
If you’re in a state that legalized industrial hemp-growing at least five years ago, you may be able to purchase crop insurance for your hemp. Still, Robison cautions, “It is not as well-established as crop insurance is for corn, beans or wheat. It’s just not there yet.”
Insurers need some historical data on industrial hemp crop performance and price in your region. If farming hemp is too new where you are, insurers won’t have access to the long-term data they’d normally use to help establish crop failure payout amounts.
Even if you can get hemp crop insurance, Robison says, “Payment is not available if the THC level goes too high—if [a hemp crop] becomes marijuana, it’s not eligible.”
Back to Basics
One of the best ways to protect yourself? If you grow other crops, think back to what you knew—and didn’t know—in the beginning.
“You had to ask a lot of questions,” Robison says. “What equipment were you going to buy? Was a certain fertility treatment organic or not? Think in the same terms with hemp. Start completely over—and verify everything!”