USDA: Hemp farmers didn’t lose enough money to receive coronavirus assistance

Federal agriculture officials have determined that hemp farmers don’t qualify for a $16 billion fund designated for farmers who saw price drops because of the novel coronavirus.

Based on data representing on-farm prices from January to April 2020, the national price for hemp crops decreases during the first quarter of 2020, according to a federal notice posted Friday the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

However, the aggregated price was only a 1% decrease, which did not meet the 5% or greater decrease in price for Coronavirus Food Assistance Program eligibility.

The national price, according to USDA, is represented by the average of five regional hemp biomass benchmark midpoints. The agency did not specify the source of these regional benchmarks.

The USDA announced in late May that the $16 billion earmarked for farmers who lost money due to the coronavirus excluded certain crops, including hemp and tobacco. The agency said that farmers growing hemp and tobacco may be eligible if they can prove they have suffered a 5% or greater price decline from January to April 2020 and face additional marketing costs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the industry lobbying group U.S. Hemp Roundtable argued that hemp, as a nascent industry and new commodity, is too new to have widely published pricing data, making it problematic for hemp farmers to comply with the USDA’s requirements to prove 5% losses in order to receive pandemic assistance.

Jonathan Miller of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable said that based on “clear data” from two hemp pricing and tracking agencies – Hemp Benchmarks and PanXchange – hemp farmers had seen a decline of more than 5%, suggesting steep downturns in hemp flower and biomass prices during the January to April time period.