4 min read

Harvest Season is Here – Make Sure Your Hemp Op is Up to Date on Testing Standards

ByTrichome Team

October 14, 2021

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Fall is officially here, and with it comes hemp harvesting season (for outdoor grows, that is!). But whether your operation is outdoor, indoor or greenhouse, there’s no season like harvest season to brush upon compliance testing standards for hemp.

In March of 2021, the USDA’s Final Rule on hemp production took effect. Some aspects remained unchanged—the 0.3% THC limit is still in place—and some elements of the law received important updates. We’ll explore those new regulations, what they mean for hemp growers, where to find state-specific sampling and regulatory guidelines, and how to find a reputable testing lab for the 2021 harvest season and beyond.

The Final Rule: What it Means for THC Potency

While cultivators everywhere may have collectively groaned when they read the 0.3% THC limit would remain intact—many argue it is arbitrary and imposes far too great a burden on cultivators—there were some helpful potency-related updates. Now, if hemp tests “hot,” that is, at levels higher than 0.3% THC but lower than 1% THC, then it does not trigger the negligence threshold. The crop must still be remediated or destroyed, but cultivators have a bit more wiggle room when it comes to negligence thresholds.

That said, cultivators must still pay close attention to their crop’s potency. If cultivators receive three negligent violations over a five-year period, they run the risk of losing their license and being excluded from the hemp program for five full years. Fortunately, cultivators can not be issued more than one negligent violation per year.

Hemp Sampling Guidelines and Timelines

On the subject of hemp sampling: previous guidance in the Interim Final Rule mandated samples be taken exclusively from the top third of a plant, which generally included more flowering material, and thereby more THC. Now, the Final Rule allows for samples to be taken “five to eight inches from the ‘main stem,’” and can include more stem and leaf material, which generally has lower levels of THC than flower. This sampling methodology must be carried out regardless of “specific performance-based sampling requirements” under State or Tribal plans.

Labs are allowed to test the entire subsample as received, including stems and leaves, a change from last year which required the laboratories to trim the plant and only test the flower portion.

It’s up to the state or tribe to develop sampling plans and requirements. If the state or tribal plan lacks a sampling protocol, then every lot and every producer must be sampled and tested.

Another significant change put forth in the USDA’s Final Rule is the pre-harvest sampling window, which increased from 15 days to 30 days. Put simply, cultivators can submit samples for sub-0.3% THC compliance 30 days or less from harvest. Hemp tends to accumulate THC quickly in the final days of the growing season, which places a lot of pressure on cultivators to time their testing just right—and leaves very little room for error.

But now, with an expanded pre-harvest window, cultivators can forecast their crop’s THC levels with a little more confidence. To take advantage of this, we urge you to establish a relationship with an accredited, high-quality hemp testing laboratory as soon as possible to ensure a smooth pre-harvest compliance testing experience.

For State- or Tribal-specific questions or additional regulations, please refer to the Agricultural Marketing Service’s list of contact information for State and Tribal programs.

Other Elements to Consider: Post-Harvest Testing

We should note that the important thing here is to ensure you pass your pre-harvest test—don’t put it off in an effort to maximize your crop’s CBD. The window for pre-harvest compliance testing is bigger than ever before. As long as your crop is under .3% THC, it’s legal in the USDA’s eyes—and you can retest it after the compliance test for a more up-to-date reading of your plant’s CBD content. (Keep in mind: pre-harvest compliance testing includes stems, leaves and other low-CBD-content elements of your plant. Post-harvest testing can target just the flowering parts of your plant, which can give you a more precise understanding of your plant’s CBD potency. This is especially helpful if you’re planning on selling smokable hemp.)

Other tests to consider for post-harvest are additional profile testing—levels of other cannabinoids and terpenes—as well as contaminant screening, water activity and foreign material screening.

Full-panel tests that take into account pesticide presence, microbial contamination, heavy metal presence and more can protect consumers, give cultivators a better understanding of their dynamic, unique crops and add credibility through scientific verification.

How New Regulations Will Affect the Hemp Industry

While there were updates in some areas, there’s a long way to go for this established but relatively new industry. Many states and tribes have crafted their own hemp testing regulations to work alongside the USDA’s—New York, for example, through the New York Hemp Cannabinoid Program, has established relatively robust testing regulations.

Their guidance establishes further limits for cannabinoids, heavy metals, microbial impurities, mycotoxins, residual pesticides, residual solvents and processing chemicals. Should any hemp product exceed established limits, it must be destroyed.

These guidelines and regulations are, in part, efforts on behalf of the state to reward so-called “good actors” and prioritize products grown and crafted by licensed hemp producers in New York, where a CBD “gray market” thrives.

In all, THC limits are important—but contaminants, heavy metals and pesticides shouldn’t be ignored, either. State-by-state and tribe-by-tribe regulations can be difficult to parse. If you have any questions about specific guidelines or how to get your hemp crop tested (from anywhere in the country), please do not hesitate to reach out.