DENVER, April 23 (UPI) -- Hemp farmers and CBD companies are now eligible for COVID-19 related economic relief from the Small Business Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an industry group said.
The Economic Injury Disaster Loans program was expanded to include hemp farmers under the Paycheck Protection Program Increase Act, passed by the U.S. Senate Tuesday.
The U.S. House is expected to approve the bill Thursday, and President Donald Trump has indicated he would sign it into law, the hemp lobbying group Vote Hemp said Wednesday.
The program was expanded to include farmers and hemp-related companies with fewer than 500 employees because USDA emergency loans had been limited to natural disasters.
In the new legislation, Congress also added another $10 billion to the disaster loan program and increased paycheck protection funding from to $659 billion from a previous $349 billion program. The earlier program quickly ran out of money after record numbers of businesses applied, including some large chains with more than 500 employees.
"Agriculture is deemed essential, but there's an agricultural dynamic that's being created by the pandemic where it's interfering with the supply chain," said Tim Gordon, president of the Colorado Hemp Industries Association. "These disruptions are going all the way to the hemp farmers."
More than 17,000 farmers licensed to grow hemp are experiencing "significant headwinds and instability as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and must be able to access disaster relief programs that can support them now," Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, said in a statement.
As planting season approaches, hemp farmers have found that capital to buy seeds has dried up, and demand has collapsed for CBD, after a market glut and crackdowns on Internet sales.
Coronavirus "stay-at-home" orders closed many CBD retailers and disrupted extractors and other hemp processing companies, industry leaders said Wednesday at an Earth Week NoCo Hemp virtual trade show.
Farmers are realizing they can't make a killing on CBD, and that has left some overextended, said Wendy Mosher, president of Fort Collins, Colo.,-based New West Genetics, a hemp seed company.
"People were telling farmers they were gonna make $40,000 an acre growing hemp," Mosher said. "I want to kill those people."
Industrial hemp, a cousin of federally illegal THC-laden marijuana, has been in a complicated regulatory environment since it was reintroduced in the United States through the 2018 Farm Bill.
Hemp farmers and those who make hemp products such as CBD, fiber, or grain have been struggling to be included in commodity crop insurance, banking and other programs available to farmers of other crops.
Hemp farmers also might be eligible for the USDA's $16 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which will provide subsidies for actual commodity losses, the hemp advocacy group said.
If hemp is included, to qualify for a payment, qualifying producers will receive 85 percent of their price loss for commodities that have declined in price by at least 5 percent between January and April 2020.
"We will be working with our contacts on Capitol Hill and the USDA to try to ensure the maximum support," Vote Hemp said Wednesday.