With the popularity of both industrial hemp and marijuana growing across the United States, many cannabis growers have taken a special interest in the potential of organic certification. Like many other agricultural products, hemp can be certified organic—but unlike products such as milk or beans, organic hemp faces special challenges and a lack of clarity in the approval process.
How USDA organic certification works
USDA organic certification generally works through recognized third parties, agents which been accredited through programs like the National Organic Program. Accredited third parties such as OneCert can then, in turn, approve or deny organic certification to producers after a lengthy process.
Organic certification for any crop or product requires stringent adherence to standards governing every single step of the production process, from the first breaking of ground to sorting machines and packaging. Every piece of equipment and process which touches the plant must be in compliance for a company to have its certification approved.
There is currently a source of organic certified hemp in the United States: domestic hemp grown and certified under USDA standards.
The National Organic Program certifies a total of 200 operations handling hemp at the moment, while reciprocal operations add roughly half again as many to the total producers and handlers of certified organic hemp.
One key factor in the current state and future of organic hemp lay in the complex network of regulations involved. Due to the various uses of the cannabis plant, hemp can run afoul of regulations from not only the USDA but the FDA and DEA.
This complex situation has resulted in many accredited certifying agents being hesitant to certify hemp organic. OneCert, in particular, certifies over half of all domestic operations growing industrial hemp, in large part because domestic growers struggle with questions of which standards the USDA will prioritize over time.
Because there is no clear-cut law on the subject of hemp certification in the face of DEA regulatory expectations for substances found in industrial hemp, such as cannabidiol, the USDA’s handling of the subject is subject to interpretation—interpretations which may shift for better or worse.
For this reason, many certifying agents have stayed on the sidelines, leaving bolder agents such as OneCert to make the majority of domestic organic certifications. Many point to this as a barrier to entry for domestic industrial hemp producers looking to produce organic products—a problem compounded by the different handling of imported hemp.