Full Text of Primordia’s comments to the USDA

— Primordia Team

We hope this common-sense breakdown of the restrictive 15-day harvest window will help move USDA hemp regulations in the right direction

Dear USDA, OAL, CDFA, and other interested parties,

We are concerned that the proposed changes put forth by the USDA and the State of California will handicap the domestic industrial hemp industry before it has had a chance to establish itself so we are reaching out to comment on the adoption of the USDA Interim Final Rule Section II;B and Title 4 of the California Code of Regulations (CCR) Sections 4940 and 4946 pertaining to the sampling and harvest procedures of Industrial Hemp.  Primordia and the Primordia Collective have been executing a large-scale hemp program since the winter of 2019, successfully growing and harvesting over 2500 acres of hemp in the Imperial Valley of California.  With registered and research acreage, we have seen firsthand how requirements established in the CCR put constraints on farmers ability to successfully harvest this new crop. 

The purpose of our comments today is that we are concerned there will be unnecessary operational and cost burdens placed on California farmers, like others in the US, if we do not revise the current language proposed.   The hemp market is no longer in a gold rush phase and has commoditized rapidly over the last year with price declines as high as 90% year over year, this crash in pricing has made it extremely difficult for farmers to make a profit on their crop and with the new regulations being proposed, additional fees will be levied, harvesting compliance will not be met, and profit margins will evaporate.

The primary reason for this concern is the very tight timeline between the execution of the sampling and the proposed requirement to harvest a compliant field within 15 calendar days of the sampling date.  We suggest this new language be re-written to provide farmers 30 days from the receipt of a passing laboratory test to harvest their field, specifically:

  • Simplify CCR Section 4940;b:1 by removing clause B
  • Revise CCR Section 4946;3:A,B,C into one clause
    • “A – The harvest must be completed within 30 calendar days of receipt of an electronic copy of a passing laboratory test report, not to extend past the expected harvest date submitted in the pre-harvest report.”
  • Revise the Federal Interim Rule II;B to allow harvest for 30 days from receipt of passing laboratory test, per bullet above

To understand why we are requesting this change, let’s start by looking at how the 15-day window poses a significant challenge to successfully harvest a crop within the proposed allotted time period.  As you can see, once a sample is taken, it can take up to one week before results are back in the hands of a farmer.

  • Breakdown of testing to harvest timeline 
    • Day 1 – Test ordered and pre-harvest report submitted
    • Day 4 – Lab and state liaison’s first available appointment time to sample field
    • Day 5 – Sample arrives at lab
    • Day 5-9 – Standard 3-5 day testing turnaround
    • Day 10 – Sample Tested
    • Day 11 – Sample results confirmed by lab and uploaded to farmer
    • Day 12 – Harvest Begins
    • Day 19 – Mandated harvest ending
  • Note* Labs are consistently backlogged and may require more than 3-5 days which can create an advantage or disadvantage based on a farmers geographic location and access to quality labs

This timeline would only allow eight days to harvest a field which, depending on harvest methodology, may not be possible for farmers.  Remember that hemp farmers, like other farmers from traditional crops, are looking for the ideal window to harvest their crop, in this case it’s when the cannabinoid content is the highest, now layer in the tight window for harvest, the State is requiring farmers to guess when this date range will occur, putting us at a significant disadvantage.  With only eight days allotted, the harvest plan must be drafted perfectly and executed without hiccups, if not, portions of the crop will have to be destroyed. The notion that a farmer can do everything right then have to destroy crop due to missing an arbitrary harvest window is not the way forward for hemp in California.

Now, let’s look at some timelines and associated costs that many farmers will face.  For starters, before pre-harvest reports have even been submitted, every farmer is going to have to test and retest their fields to understand the potency of the crop, this requires the farmer to expend a considerable amount of time and resources just to understand where his/her crop is at from a compliance perspective, AND, since this process must start at least 45 days prior to harvest, the overall potencies of the crop are much lower than when it will be harvested a month later.  All to say, new farmers and even ones with a successful season under their belt will not only be required to “guess” the expected cannabinoid content of their crop, they will be required to spend an exorbitant amount of money to have it executed successfully under the tight timeline.  We won’t go into how weather may effect the crop and harvest conditions but as we all know, a few days of rain means no combine in the field. 

Here is an example of a farmer growing 100 acres of hemp which must all be harvested around the same time in early November of 2020.

  • First, in preparation for submitting the pre-harvest report, the farmer has to expend considerable time and money sampling and testing for its compliance level in order to submit the pre-harvest report in time
  • The farmer, which may have little to no historical data on the development of hemp cannabinoids will then have to guess when the proper time to submit a harvest report is
  • Sampling occurs and 100 acre field passes – This takes one week which provides farmer 8 days to harvest
  • Farmer is using a mechanical combine that can harvest 8 acres per day
    • This would require 13 days to successfully harvest
  • Ultimately the farmer could only harvest 64 of his/her acres within the allotted time, causing the destruction of the remaining 36 acres and erasing all potential margin that may have been realized

Here is another example of a farmer growing 100 acres of hemp with 10 different varieties, all of which must be harvested within a 45 day window so the farmer creates 10 unique blocks, one for each variety.  50 of the acres must be hand-harvested, 50 acres can be done mechanically.  Hopefully the complexity of creating a rolling schedule that adheres to the compliance measures proposed and the inevitable burden it creates is obvious.

  • First, in preparation for submitting the pre-harvest report, the farmer has to expend considerable time and money sampling and testing each block for its compliance level in order to submit the pre-harvest report in time
  • The farmer, which may have little to no historical data on the development of hemp cannabinoids will then have to guess when is the proper time to submit a harvest report
    • Farmer has fields of varying size and location which requires a combination of hand harvesting and mechanical harvesting.  Hand harvesting can be executed at 2 acres per day and mechanical at 8 acres per day.  Resources are thin and crews have to be managed and moved on a daily basis
  • Sampling occurs and passes on first 10 acre block – This takes one week which provides farmer 7 days to harvest the 10 acres
    • Immediately upon first block passing, the second 10 acre block, which is ready to harvest as well, needs to be sampled.  This would cause a week delay before harvesting begins then 7 days to harvest
    • This cadence continues through harvest but poses significant risk for failure
  • For the 50 acres requiring hand harvest – 25 days
  • For the 50 acres requiring mechanical harvest – 6 days
  • Sampling Costs
    • Pre-harvest sampling – $75/test – 3 tests per block – 10 blocks – (75*3*10= $2250)
    • Pre-harvest sampling labor – 2 hours per test – 225 total tests – 450 man hours @ $13.50/hr – $6075
    • CDFA sampling / test fee – $500/per – $5000
    • Total – $13,325
  • Ultimately the farmer is only able to successfully harvest a portion of his/her fields within the allotted harvest window post sampling so like the first example, the farmer may lose all potential margin that could have been realized due to the harvest burden placed by State

All told, we believe this is an unfair burden considering the infant stage of the United States’ hemp industry, the myriad of idiosyncrasies the hemp plant produces, the inevitable delay of compliance sampling/testing timelines, and the difficulty in developing a complex crop production plan that must be executed perfectly in order to prevent destruction and a 100% loss. It is our opinion that if this rule is not revised there will be several consequences that will disproportionately effect California farmers and businesses:

  • Good, compliant hemp crops will be destroyed
  • California farmers and businesses will lose tens of millions of dollars due to the inability to harvest within the allotted window, reducing much needed revenue for this new industry
  • New investment will be placed in other states and countries where compliance standards make successful farming more achievable
  • The cost burden to sample and test hemp crops will be extremely high for mid to large scale farmers, making the US less competitive

We implore the USDA, State of California, the CDFA, and the OAL to reconsider the restrictive harvest window proposed and to revise the language of sections II:B, 4940 and 4946 to allow farmers 30 days from the sampling date to harvest their fields.  This is a simple change that will lead to more farming jobs and successful, compliant hemp crops in the State of California and the US, a win for all involved.  We are here to answer any additional questions and to further detail the points above.  We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

The Primordia Team

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