Industrial Hemp

by Wyatt Miller, University of Missouri Extension Agronomy Specialist

At one time, industrial hemp was a large agronomic crop in Missouri and much of the U.S. It has a deep history not only in the United States, but around the world. Industrial hemp is thought to be among one of the world’s first agricultural crops. Records indicate hemp was first cultivated in Asia as early as 8,000 BCE. Industrial hemp came to the Americas in the early 1600s and by 1632, the Virginia Assembly required farmers to devote a share of their land to its production. Hemp fibers were used for numerus things including, ropes, sails, clothing, and paper. It was grown by many founding fathers for its fiber, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and even used a source of paper for a draft of the Declaration of Independence.

Hemp was a labor-intensive crop and its production began to slow in the in the early 1900s as demand began to decrease due to various factors, including availability of other cheaper plant fibers. In 1937 the U.S. federal government passed the Marijuana Tax Act in an attempt to reduce production because it was being consumed as an intoxicant in addition to being utilized as a fiber crop. This made hemp production less profitable and essentially ended large-scale production. In 1942 production increased as the U.S. launched the Hemp for Victory campaign to encourage farmers to grow hemp for the war effort. However, after the war, cheap synthetic fibers destroyed the U.S. hemp industry, with the last commercial hemp field planted in 1957. In 1970, President Nixon signed the Controlled Substance Act, which designated all forms of Cannabis as Schedule 1 drugs, therefore making hemp and marijuana illegal to produce or possess.

The 2014 Farm bill allowed pilot research programs with industrial hemp to be administered by either state departments of agriculture or universities. In Missouri, HB 2034 became effective in August 28, 2018. The bill exempts industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana and the list of controlled substances, and creates an Industrial Hemp Pilot Program to be implemented by the Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA). In November 2018, Missouri voters also passed constitutional Amendment 2 to permit state-licensed physicians to recommend marijuana for medical purposes to patients with serious illnesses and medical conditions. Applicable rules and regulations are currently being developed and will be implemented no later than June 4, 2019. For additional information on Amendment 2 – Medical Marijuana visit the MO Department of Health and Senior Services website at
Recently University of Missouri Extension centers have been receiving several questions regarding industrial hemp, largely due to recent legislative changes in Missouri. One common question that tends to arise is, “what is the difference in hemp and marijuana.” The only true distinction is the dry weight concentration of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabionl, or THC, found in the plant. THC is a type of cannabinoid that has psychoactive properties that gives the feeling of intoxication or a “high.” According to the 2014 Farm Bill, a Cannabis plant is marijuana if it has more than 0.3% THC or industrial hemp if it has 0.3% or less THC. Both plants are Cannabis sativa and look and smell exactly the same while growing. The difference is similar to that of field corn and sweet corn. Both plants are Zea mays, but are very different chemically. Cannabis plants have other naturally occurring cannabinoids, besides the more commonly known THC. Cannabidiol or CBD is one that can be found in industrial hemp and is of particular interest to pharmaceutical and medical researchers. Cannabidiol has been reported to reduce the frequency of seizures in epileptic patients and may have the potential to be used as an analgesic, appetite enhancer, and anti-depressant. Cannabinoids are present throughout the plant, but are found in highest concentration in female flowers.

For commercial producers the bulk of questions have pertained to the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program. While there are still several unknowns, the current proposed rules are available on MDA website. The proposed rules in the Missouri Register explain in detail the grower and handler application requirements, selection process, application period, and fees. According to the current proposed rules, applicants must complete and pay for a federal background check and submit a $100 nonrefundable fee per type of registration. Applications are selected by scoring of the following factors: A)application for registration; B)Applicant’s farming experience; C) Detailed map of the plot of land on which industrial hemp will be cultivated; and D) Applicant’s industrial hemp production, research, and marking plan. Once applicants are selected, they must sign and submit the provided Industrial Hemp Pilot Program Grower and Handler Registration Agreement with applicable fees; a grower’s registration fee includes $500 plus $45 per acre to be planted. All industrial hemp varieties planted and cultivated within a plot must be sampled at growers expense and if THC levels are greater than 0.3%, the crop must be destroyed without compensation. There was recently a 30 day public comment period that closed February 1, 2019. Based off the comments, the agency will decide whether they will move forward as proposed, amend the rule, or withdraw it. Dates are subject to change, but at this time, the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program rules are expected to become effective on June 30, 2019. Industrial Hemp education and outreach meetings will follow beginning in August, with grower and handler applications becoming available in September. For more information regarding the Industrial Hemp pilot program, visit the MDA website at Wyatt Miller, Agronomy Specialist, 573-769-2177,