Arizona hemp farmers may be feeling a bit panicked after the state’s Department of Agriculture’s Plant Services Division published a report stating that 41 percent of the hemp plants they tested had THC levels that were too high. 

“It’s a high-risk deal,” said head farmer for Arizona Hemp Supply Co. Dustin Shill. “Right now, it’s just a shot in the dark really. It’s crazy.”

A Plant Services Division authority called the numbers “not unexpected,” but they were a call for alarm for some hemp business leaders. 

“At 40%, that’s off the charts,” said Sully Sullivan, executive director of the Hemp Industry Trade Association of Arizona in reaction to the state’s released figures. “I’m taken aback by that. That’s substantial.”

Hemp farmers must test the THC limits on their products before going to harvest, and paying for such evaluations is often a hefty budget item. If hemp tests above the 0.3 percent legal limit for THC, farmers have no choice but to destroy their crop. In a relatively young hemp industry, that has happened often. In November, one Southern California farmer saw 10 million of their cannabis plants seized after the field tested too high on THC levels, causing a loss of about $1 billion in product.

Large busts have also been made in places like Idaho, where state police seized some 6,701 pounds of supposed hemp that tested too high for THC. 

But though the rest of the country has seen problems caused by too-loud hemp, numbers like those of Arizona are rare. The Associated Press interviewed the founder and CEO of one cannabis testing lab who said the state’s hot and dry weather may be the culprit for its crops’ unpredictable THC content — especially if farmers are using seeds from geographic areas with different climate concerns. 

“Stressed plants do crazy things,” said Ryan Treacy. 

Such variations in plant performance may be too much for novice hemp farmers, who have become a commonly occurring phenomenon in a national industry that was only legalized at the start of last year. THC content is really only one of many tricky aspects of cultivation that could hamstring less experienced growers. Others include varying levels of soil composition, sun, and water levels. 

New licenses were granted to farm hemp on a half-million acres of land in the United States, a 450 percent increase from 2018. 

Anxiety over THC level testing has risen to new levels recently, as the federal government prepares to revise industry regulations. Some farmers have suggested that the legal limit for THC in hemp be raised to one percent to create a larger margin of error. The vast amount of criticism generated by proposed changes led the USDA to extend the comment period for the regulation revisions by a month. 

The hemp and CBD markets are exploding in the post-legalization era. A recent study forecasted that CBD sales also could reach $20 billion by 2024. 80 percent of licensed US hemp farmers raise crops for use in CBD products. Before hemp agriculture was regulated, the United States was already the world’s largest importer of the plant.

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