Illinois hemp growers struggle with COVID-19 pandemic

(The Center Square) – The COVID-19 pandemic has hurt many industries in Illinois, including the production of hemp.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture reports 2,392 acres of industrial hemp, or 87% of the acres planted, were harvested last year. That was down from just over 2,800 acres in 2019, the first year hemp was legal in Illinois.

Illinois Division of Cannabis Manager David Lakeman said the hemp industry, like many others, was affected by the pandemic.

“The industry was dealing with workforce safety challenges, there were pandemic-related impacts on the market, there were also some initial issues with processing, and all those factors combined to make it a little bit of a difficult year for the industry,” Lakeman said.

Hemp is a variety of cannabis that contains only a small fraction of the psychoactive substance THC found in marijuana. The fiber can be used in textiles and a wide range of other industrial purposes. But in recent years it has become more popular as a source of cannabidiol oil, or CBD.

Although it is now legal, the industry is still highly regulated. The state inspects crops to make sure they do not exceed THC limits. If hemp tests above 0.7 percent THC, the crop must be destroyed.

The Hemp Industries Association and other advocates have called for a 1% THC bump in the limits to encourage participation in the hemp sector. But the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture did not say in its policy statement how states go about making that change.

IDOA is now accepting applications for the 2021 hemp growing season. Those interested in growing or processing hemp can get information at https://agrlicensing.illinois.gov/Industrial_Hemp/.

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