The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) last week released guidance under a 2020 plan to allow cannabis and hemp cultivation on land belonging to the state Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) and Farm Viability Enhancement programs. The move could open up more than 73,000 acres of protected farmland to potential industry operations.
The APR program, which dates back to 1979, offers to pay farmland owners the difference between fair market value and the agricultural value of their farms in exchange for permanent deed restrictions in order to preserve farmland for agricultural use in the future, according to the agency website. The Farm Viability Enhancement Program provides business and technical assistance to established farmers through grant funding in exchange for signing an agricultural covenant on the property to keep it for agricultural use, according to the state website.
Hemp and cannabis production will be allowed on lands in the programs, although cannabis may not be grown on land that is federally funded as cannabis remains federally outlawed. MDAR noted to the Worchester Business Journal that all of the recently acquired APRs were obtained through federal financing.
In the guidance, the agency said the updated rules were sparked by “concerns” from landholders who sought to “diversify land use and provide new income sources.”
“After reviewing these concerns and evaluating the evolving state of the law as it relates to the legalization of medical and adult use marijuana in Massachusetts and cultivation of hemp in the United States, the Department has been reviewing its policies related to hemp and marijuana and evaluating whether the Department may recognize such activities as horticultural uses in a manner consistent with the laws and intent of the APR Program.” – Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, “Hemp and Marijuana Production on APR and Farm Viability Protected Lands, Apr. 28, 2021”
Other hurdles remain for farmers, including an MDAR restriction on hemp-derived CBD products in Massachusetts‘ licensed cannabis stores. MDAR is presently working with the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission to address the issue, possibly opening the profitable market up to help farmers.
According to Vote Hemp, there were 202 acres of hemp grown in Massachusetts last year, up from just 21 in 2019.
Lukas Barfield contributed to the reporting in this article.
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