Industrial hemp is not a dead issue in South Dakota, it’s only been postponed until after the United States Department of Agriculture guidelines are debuted sometime in Fall 2019.

This is according to Governor Kristi Noem, having to revisit the subject after this year’s Industrial Hemp bill first passed the legislature by a two-thirds vote, was vetoed by Noem, and then the veto was not overridden by another legislative two-thirds vote.

Noem first voted for the federal 2018 Farm Bill as a South Dakota Representative, then vetoed the South Dakota hemp bill as the state’s governor. She explained her support for the Farm Bill by saying it is an 800-page document. It includes many provisions for South Dakota producers, such as strengthens crop insurance and improves livestock disaster programs. It improves commodity titles. It increases support for rural broadband. It helps add acres to the Conservation Reserve Program. “The Farm Bill set the stage for states to have discussions on industrial hemp,” said Noem. She stressed that the Farm Bill is about protecting farmers and America’s food supply – not about legalizing industrial hemp. “We’ll see what happens with industrial hemp in 2020,” Noem said.

Noem said she is a farmer, yet is charged as the state’s governor to do what is best for the state. Noem had opposed the high cost of a hemp program, which would pull funds from other state programs. Her other arguments included the fact that there are no field testing kits that can determine the difference between hemp and marijuana. She has said there is currently no room in busy state laboratories for testing. Noem also said other states are being sued over enforcement issues. Hemp oils are the main problem, rather than hemp fiber. And, as the bill came through the legislature, she said, it transformed into a different bill.

Doug Sombke, president of the South Dakota Farmers Union, has voiced support for industrial hemp and said he was frustrated by Noem’s decision to veto the state legislature’s hemp bill.

“A lot of it will depend on what we can do for the next year,” Sombke said. “It’s really put us in a bind. We (producers and processors) will definitely be way behind. There’s a lot of manufacturing in Minnesota that will have a leg-up over us. I don’t see us being able to steal back the industry such as we did with Tru Shrimp deciding to build in Madison. It’s going to put us into 2021 before we can plant. Better to get the processing going, as well as the planting.”

“The law enforcement thing is not even an issue,” Sombke said. “If anyone thinks industrial hemp leads to marijuana, then you’re looking for a solution when there isn’t a problem. The hemp crop is another tool, especially for the smaller farmer, to throw in another rotational crop. And it’s good for pheasants (one of Noem’s economic goals); because you don’t cut this stuff down to the ground so the stubble is good pheasant cover. The federal law says they can still transport it through South Dakota, as long as they have all the documentation. There’s already a system of checks and balances.”

“I think there’s going to be some ability (to get into the market),” Sombke said, “but the processors won’t be here. Lots of products are going to be developed from this. We are more into the textiles than the oils. We can buy hemp paper, hemp rope, and hemp bale net-wrap, but we can’t grow it or make it here or ship it to a processor.”

Scott VanderWal, president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau, said his organization did not weigh in on the industrial hemp issue because Noem signaled early on that she wasn’t in favor of allowing the crop.

“We will have some hurdles still. Have to have the processing in place before the crop. The processors are going to have control over it.” VanderWal said.

He said he believes the talk and industry are more toward CBD oil than toward fiber products like paper or bale nets.

“We have some Farm Bureau states all for it. Some others, like South Dakota, want a slow approach. Until drug dogs not being able to discern between hemp and marijuana  and other law enforcement issues can get remedied, we aren’t going to say we have to have it right now. Maybe it is something people can take advantage of; we would support it as an alternative crop. We would certainly not favor violating any laws.”

VanderWal said South Dakota might end up a little behind other states but won’t be harmed in the long run.

“Assuming we get the logistical challenges taken care of by next year, maybe industrial hemp can be approved in South Dakota at that point,” VanderWal said. “Maybe we will be a little behind, say with North Dakota, but not behind that much. It’s a young industry. Our bottom line message to farmers is, really, go in with your eyes wide open and do your homework first. It is something so new we didn’t feel comfortable addressing it at this point.”

Tony Mangan, South Dakota Department of Public Safety, said, “We are following the Governor’s Office position, and will wait for the release of the USDA guidelines.”


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