Hemp: Our Agriculture Innovation Agenda

Illinois Hemp Growers Association

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Hemp: Our Agriculture Innovation Agenda

On April 1st 2020, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is soliciting comments and suggestions on objectives and opportunities leading to research goals and informed product goals to facilitate transformative breakthroughs to enable U.S. agriculture to meet the Department's goal of increasing agricultural production by 40 percent to meet the needs of the global population in 2050 while cutting the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture in half.

This effort is part of USDA's Agricultural Innovation Agenda, the Department's commitment to the continued success of American farmers, ranchers, producers, and foresters in the face of future challenges.

We here at the Illinois Hemp Growers Association would like to share with you the comment we have prepared.

Here are the guidelines:

The Department identified four innovation clusters that present broad potential for transformative innovation. Innovation clusters represent a grouping of innovations to focus agricultural research and inform product development.

These clusters are:

  1. Genome Design—Utilization of genomics and precision breeding to explore, control, and improve traits of agriculturally important organisms.

  2. Digital/Automation—Deployment of precise, accurate and field-based sensors to collect information in real time in order to visualize changing conditions and respond automatically with interventions that reduce risk of losses and maximize productivity.

  3. Prescriptive Intervention— Application and integration of data sciences, software tools, and systems models to enable advanced analytics for managing the food and agricultural system.

  4. Systems Based Farm Management—Leverage a systems approach in order to understand the nature of interactions among different elements of the food and agricultural system to increase overall efficiency, resilience, and sustainability of farm enterprises.

Stakeholders are asked to respond to the following questions:

1. What agricultural commodity, group of commodities, or customer base does your response pertain to or would benefit?

This response pertains to industrial hemp representing a group of commodities encompassing food, animal feed, pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, industrial products, and feedstock ingredients.

2. What are the biggest challenges and opportunities to increase productivity and/or decrease environmental footprint that should be addressed in the next 10- to 30-year timeframe?

The biggest challenges for increasing the productivity of hemp are developing the infrastructure to support its production and use as a major crop and rapidly developing more productive and purpose-specific varieties to increase its economic viability.

Hemp presents an opportunity to immediately increase overall agricultural productivity by its ability to be grown on marginal land. In the long term, hemp represents an opportunity to be grown as a substitution for other major crops with larger environmental footprints to maintain levels of production while increasing access to low-cost and nutritious food as well as sustaining more efficient agricultural and bioeconomy systems in rural communities.

3.For each opportunity identified, answer the following supplemental questions:
a. What might be the outcome for the innovation solution (e.g., the physical or tangible product(s) or novel approach) from each of the four innovation clusters?

Genome Design – Widely available, stabilized, purpose-specific, climate adapted, higher yielding strains as a result of precision breeding through phenotype selection on an unprecedented scale utilizing digital automation.

Digital Automation – Sensors to record exact location, planting date, germination rate, and variety. Sensors for real time monitoring and recording of plant density, structure, sex, uptake, and characteristics of technical/biological maturity including lignin development and pollen release.

Perscriptive Intervention – Nationwide database platform for crop sensors to record to with enough precision for farmers to use as an authoritative reference and resource for early identification of outliers and mitigation of potential issues through networking at the hyperlocal level.

Systems Based Farm Management – Integration of multiple varieties of hemp simultaneously for specific purposes in an agricultural system. High yielding hemp bred to be easier to mechanically harvest and process as a rotation crop for food and fiber, hemp bred to be 20 feet tall used as a fast-growing field windbreak, hemp bred for phytoremediation, hemp bred for carbon sequestration, hemp used as a forage crop, and hemp as a productive crop on marginal land.

b. What are the specific research gaps, regulatory barriers, or other hurdles that need to be addressed to enable eventual application, or further application, of the innovation solution proposed from each of the four innovation clusters?

Hemp is competing for acreage against commodity and specialty crops with established markets and decades of agronomic research and industry experience. Additionally, hemp grain is not approved for animal feed, CBD cannot legally be sold as a dietary supplement, and hemp fiber has not been tested and approved for use as a building material.

These pale in comparison to the biggest and most obvious roadblock for all clusters of innovation: the status of THC as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance.

Every aspect of the hemp industry is being stifled by the regulatory framework of testing and licensing based on an obsolete overreaction known as the war on drugs.

The classification of THC as having no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse is one of the most anachronistic absurdities of our time.

Until the Schedule 1 barrier is removed and regulations based on science instead of malarkey are implemented, hemp will languish as innovators are constrained by a baseless limitation.

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