The federal government has given the green light for a hemp program, and that’s good news for Alaskans who are looking to get into the business.

The 2014 Farm Bill initially gave states the authority to begin pilot programs.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it would establish a U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program, as required by the 2018 Farm Bill.

Division of Agriculture Director Dave Schade said the state is still finalizing its regulations for a hemp pilot program.

Schade said a federally-approved program means farmers in Alaska can make their operations permanent, instead of just test growing.

The state could be ready to accept applications in the first few months of 2020 with the goal of getting farmers growing in the fields by the summer, Schade said.

“It means that we’re going to have long-term viability. It also means, for our producers, you now can get crop insurance and other [Farm Service Agency] programs once you’re registered in the state program. So it takes us to the next level of this becoming an accepted industry,” Schade explained.

He said getting a commercial industry established in Alaska will take more work than just getting farmers on board. Like its relative marijuana, hemp also has to be tested. It has to contain less than 0.3% THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.

“We’re going to make it safe for the people so that the products that are out on the street are manufactured correctly and sold in a legitimate manner so you know whatever you buy is a safe product,” Schade said.

Staff at the Alaska Plant Materials Center in Palmer started growing hundreds of plants for a pilot program last April. Many of those were destroyed after Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced budget cuts that axed the $375,000 funding for the program. But those cuts weren’t necessarily going to save the state that money.

Under Senate Bill 6, which authorized legal hemp in Alaska, registration fees from applications for the pilot program would make up the cost of regulating the industry.

The Legislature ultimately restored funding for the program.

Schade said staff were able to salvage seeds from some of their remaining plants to restart the program after the budget issue was resolved.

He anticipates there could be hundreds, if not thousands, of people who apply to be a part of the program and that the Division of Agriculture office fields about 10 calls a day from people eager get this new industry started in Alaska.

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