Senator Wyden Urges USDA to Clarify Industrial Hemp’s Eligibility for Federal Research Grants

Washington, DC –-(ENEWSPF)–November 20, 2015.  U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) today urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to clarify that industrial hemp research programs are eligible for existing federal research dollars.

Wyden was among a bipartisan group of 12 senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.); and 37 members of the House of Representatives – including Oregon Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader — to write Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about industrial hemp research.

“It appears that USDA has the authority to award competitive grants for the development of industrial hemp,” the members wrote in the letter. “Nevertheless, it seems the USDA has provided conflicting information regarding whether the agency is willing to exercise its authority to award existing federal grant dollars for the research of industrial hemp.”

Industrial hemp is used throughout the world in thousands of products, including paper, fabrics, lotions, canvas, rope, and construction material. Under the Agricultural Act of 2014, institutions of higher education and state departments of agriculture are permitted to launch industrial hemp research pilot programs if certain conditions are met. Twenty-six states have authorized industrial hemp pilot studies or production.

However, USDA has yet to clarify whether these programs are eligible for research dollars as other research programs that focus on the industrial uses of commodities are. Some individuals seeking clarity from the USDA on this issue report being told by USDA officials that “it is not worth it to apply” for research funds, whereas a Dec. 23, 2014 internal USDA memo suggests that the USDA is supportive of industrial hemp research and may be willing to award funds for that purpose.

“Due to this lack of consistency, researchers are reluctant to apply for federal funds because of the large amount of time, effort, and cost that goes into any grant application,” the members wrote in the letter.

The members asked Secretary Vilsack:

  1. Does USDA interpret current law as providing the agency with the authority to award existing and competitive federal funds for the research of industrial hemp?
  2. If the answer is yes, what steps is USDA taking to disseminate that information and work with interested parties in the competitive grant process?

The signed text of the letter is available here. Signatories include Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), and Reps. Andy Barr (R-KY), Rod Blum (R-IA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Rodney Davis (R-IL), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Marlin Stutzman (R-IN), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Mark Takai (D-HI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Peter Welch (D-VT), Ed Whitfield (R-KY), John Yarmuth (D-KY), and Ryan Zinke (R-MT).