Oregon Department of Agriculture Requests Additional Hemp Program Staffing
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Oregon Department of Agriculture Requests Additional Hemp Program Staffing

With hemp production booming in the state, the department wants to bring on three new full-time positions to help with regulatory oversight.

January 21, 2020

The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) is looking to add more staffing to its hemp program in preparation for the 2020 growing season.

ODA recently received approval from a key legislative committee to hire two specialists for hemp inspections and enforcement, as well as an assistant water master to investigate hemp farmers violating the state’s water laws. If approved by the Oregon Legislature, the state would increase its hemp program budget by more than $1.2 million to pay for the new positions “due to the significant growth of the hemp program in Oregon,” says Andrea Cantu-Schomus, the department’s director of communications. 

The department currently only has two full-time employees dedicated to the state’s hemp program, one of which is a managerial position. The current staff of two handles registrations and provides technical assistance to help farmers register for the state’s hemp program properly.

ODA also has several staff members from other departments who assist during times of heavy registration volume.

Cantu-Schomus says with current staffing levels, no ODA staff is available for in-the-field work.

The ODA’s requests would fund two natural resources specialist positions who would be available full-time for inspections, testing and enforcement in the field. Under Oregon’s current program, all hemp plants are required to be tested in the field no more than 28 days prior to harvest for total tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) testing.

The increased funding would also pay for an interagency agreement with the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD), “allowing OWRD to increase the available capacity to address water complaint issues related to hemp production by putting an additional assistant water master to work in the field,” Cantu-Schomus says. In Oregon, businesses must obtain a water right from the Water Resources Department to use water from a well, spring, stream, or other sources in the state. Water permits transfer with the property, but new permits are not available in many areas of the state. 

“This position includes an educational component helping to educate hemp growers about water rights,” Cantu-Schomus adds. 

The rest of the funding would cover the current staffing being pulled from other departments and would bring on temporary employees to further assist in covering the workload associated with the program.

ODA has the funds available for the budget increase from registration fees, but it needs sign-off from the state legislature on how to allocate those funds. The department is expecting final approval during the state’s next legislative session, which runs from Feb. 3 through March 8.

Like many states, Oregon’s boom in hemp production has led to a shortage of staffing levels available to enforce the program. The state’s first year of growing in 2015 saw 13 hemp growers and 105 licensed acres. In 2019, the state had nearly 2,000 growers and nearly 64,000 acres of licensed hemp—a 555% increase in acreage from 2015. 

Oregon is currently operating under the 2014 Farm Bill pilot program rules, as states are allowed to do until Oct. 31 of this year. Cantu-Schomus says the state is currently working on a plan to submit to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to comply with the 2018 Farm Bill. 

Even with the requested additions of staff, the department would still be in need of additional regulatory oversight—especially as the 2018 Farm Bill fully takes effect.

“Due to the additional regulator oversight required for an approved state plan, ODA expects a bill tied to the implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill will be introduced during the 2020 legislative session,” Cantu-Schomus says. “ODA plans to request additional resources of up to four additional positions and $520,000 ... related to the bill. This would allow the department to develop a plan and processes to implement the necessary changes to meet the 2018 Farm Bill requirements.”