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Feb 5, 2019 3:22 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

After Farm Bill Victory, Farming For CBD Products Is On The Horizon

David Falkowski of Open Minded Organics in Bridgehampton. JD ALLEN
Feb 6, 2019 10:36 AM

An unintended consequence of the partial shutdown of the federal government last month was the delayed implementation of the federal farm bill, which was signed by President Donald Trump in December.

The meat of the farm bill—an omnibus spending bill dealing with agriculture and food policy that is renewed every five years—lays out funding priorities for the U.S. Department of Agriculture that give farmers access to land and capital, maintain farmland conservation efforts and monitor soil, water and air quality for a productive growing season.

All of that was sidelined nearly throughout the month of January during the shutdown—a crucial time for farmers who are planning their planting season.

What was striking to many growers this year was the legalization of hemp production in all 50 states. Hemp is a variety of cannabis, like marijuana, but without the intoxicating qualities.

The legislation allows vendors to transport and sell their products across state lines, and gives growers access to federal crop insurance and financial services, such as credit card processing, that were off the table prior.

Hemp products—such as fibers, oils, construction materials, foods and medication—are already produced in a limited fashion in New York under the state’s Industrial Hemp Agricultural Research Program.

David Falkowski of Open Minded Organics in Bridgehampton is one of the only farmers who participates in that program, producing CBD products, which are derived from cannabis with lower levels of the psychoactive compound THC. He sells the oil—which is applied topically or ingested—as an anti-inflammatory and anxiety reliever. The oils are not yet supported by the USDA or the Federal Drug Administration.

Mr. Falkowski said the hope is that the farm bill will open the door for better federal research and regulation to legitimize his product—but the government shutdown wasn’t doing him, and other hemp growers, any favors.

“We want these answers eventually, but that can’t happen if the government keeps getting shut down,” he said. “We are sidelined because of federal compliance.

“The infrastructure is just not there,” he continued. “It’s complicated because we don’t want to sacrifice valuable acreage of food production and have high energy inputs for indoor growing facilities run by large corporations to make money with the guise of making medicine or an adult-use product. The idea should be to keep this within small farmers to add diversity for their crops and avoid removing viable production systems.”

At a December summit in upstate Morrisville, Open Minded Organics offered the boots-on-the-ground viewpoint of growing hemp products to the State Department of Agriculture. Mr. Falkowski has found through trial and error that CBD oils can be safely marketable and fairly regulated to allow for small growers to be able to profit and consumers to safely use.

The state has also been inching toward the legalization of recreational use marijuana—with Governor Andrew Cuomo seeking the tax benefits experienced in other states—and Mr. Falkowski expects that will revamp CBD production in New York.

But as far as interstate production and sales, it is going to take a lot of encouragement from the federal government to convince other states to be as open minded.

“The farm bill is a federal thing. Some states still don’t have hemp pilot programs,” Mr. Falkowski said. “The door’s open and now they have to flesh out policy and allocate funding to where it is needed. Just because the farm bill passed, doesn’t mean all of these burdens have been levied.”

However, to Mr. Falkowski, the farm bill seems to be a step in the right direction for the country—as soon as the federal government is able to get the agenda set by the law in motion.

“I have never utilized a crop insurance program before, but as I put more eggs in this basket, it would be nice to have the federal government watch my back,” he laughed.

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