The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering 10 applications submitted by hemp farmers to use pesticides in their grows. The EPA announced a 30-day public comment period on August 21 at a hemp production event at the University of Kentucky.
The EPA said it believes expanding pesticide use would allow hemp farmers to increase their yields, expanding a growing industry. The US legalized hemp for industrial uses in 2018. “Farmers need every tool in the toolbox to increase yields and protect their crops from harmful pests,” said Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles of the announcement.
Hemp Roundtable, a hemp industry lobbying association, explained to Cannabis Wire that industry representatives have been speaking to the EPA recently on this issue. It says it is assembling a team of scientists who will also review the proposed pesticides under EPA review.
The scientists will consider whether these chemicals are safe for consumers and the environment. The proposed agents include insecticides, miticides, fungicides, nematicides and bactericides.
The EPA’s move is notable at a time when states like California consider developing a quasi-organic certification standard for cannabis producers. As the cannabis and hemp industries keep growing, they face questions of how to maintain environmental sustainability and consumer safety. Use of pesticides may prove highly contentious.
“Pesticides are an easy option for quick production,” Jesse Daniels of Massachusetts cannabis grower Dank Ethics told Filter. “Producers are using these with profit in mind rather than considering the safety of the environment or of people.”
Daniels highlighted some of the negative effects pesticides have on the environment. “Everything grows off of bacteria, and pesticides kill off bacteria and the ground,” he said. “You have to replenish the Earth after using them. And we don’t know too much about the long-term effects of certain pesticides and how much of them stay in the plant. Even upon application to fields, these agents can drift into local communities’ breathing air and water supplies.”
Growing without pesticides may be more difficult and costly, Daniels said, but the longer-term payoff in environmental and health outcomes is worth the effort. “Prevention is key, if you take measures to prevent pests and insects from getting in your grow to begin with.”
“There’s other techniques like companion planting that keep pests down,” he added. “There’s not just one thing with organic pest control that works, it’s a combination of things that supports your ecosystem. There are also organic oils and insecticide soaps that function as pesticides but don’t harm the Earth or linger in the product.”
Part of the problem for hemp producers is that consumers may not want to pay a higher price for organic products. “We just need to get the truth out there and let people hear it,” Daniels said. “Organic growing practices work well if you put in the time to learn. With more legalization of hemp and cannabis, it’s bringing greater visibility to how farmers are growing and making it easier for us to share information about organic practices.”