For decades, the lack of a commercial hemp industry has made the United States an outlier among most of the world’s developed countries. That may soon change, and some states in the Midwest have already been pursuing policies to ensure their farmers can make the most of this new market opportunity.
“Hemp could be a valuable crop,” North Dakota Rep. Dennis Johnson says, “but we need processors and market diversity and reliable regulations. “The 2018 farm bill goes a long way toward doing this.”
Enacted at the end of last year, the new law legalizes industrial hemp (it must have a THC concentration level of below 0.3 percent), allowing for market-scale cultivation and the interstate sale of products. In another important change for producers, the new farm bill allows hemp to be included in federal crop insurance.
At a time when net U.S. farm income levels have fallen to a 16-year low, the Midwest’s agriculture producers were looking for some good news at the end of 2018. The new farm bill is largely thought to be just that.
Passed by the U.S. Congress in December, the bipartisan Agricultural Improvement Act maintains and expands crucial loan, insurance and conservation programs for farmers, while also making new investments in areas such as rural broadband and urban agriculture.
In the 1930s, farmers throughout the Midwest were going out of business in record numbers, and corporations were buying the farmland at rock-bottom prices. In response, several Midwestern states passed bans on corporate farming and foreign land ownership. One of the first was North Dakota — via an initiated measure approved by voters in 1932.
That Depression-era law has faced a mix of legislative and legal challenges over the past three years, but it’s still standing.
Most recently, in September, U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland issued a decision in a closely watched case that pitted the state against the North Dakota Farm Bureau.
Residents living in more than half of the nation’s counties have only one insurer to choose from on their state’s Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange. This lack of options is most prevalent in rural areas: 41 percent of enrollees in non-metro counties vs. the overall rate of 21 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Could the creation of agricultural cooperative health plans help fill insurance gaps, offer more choices for consumers and lower costs?