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Lawmakers get another shot at helping hemp growers

Reconciling state law with the farm bill would allow OSU to work more closely with hemp producers.

CAPITAL BUREAU - Hemp grows in an Oregon field in this file photo from 2016.Oregon lawmakers will be asked to rectify a problem with the state's hemp regulations in 2018 that mysteriously failed to pass muster last year.

Currently, Oregon State University's researchers and extension agents are forbidden from advising hemp growers about their crop because it remains illegal under federal law.

However, this hurdle could be overcome due to provisions in the 2014 Farm Bill, which permit states to conduct hemp research pilot programs.

By bringing Oregon's hemp program under this research umbrella, OSU could work more closely with hemp producers.

In 2017, members of the House Agriculture Committee unanimously passed a "house-keeping bill" to straighten out this discrepancy between state and federal law, but the proposal ended up dying in the Ways and Means Committee for unclear reasons.

There was no known opposition to the bill, leading proponents to figure it was likely a casualty of the frenzy to finish the legislative session.

Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, has re-introduced a new bill with similar language for this year's short session, which will also allow OSU to test hemp seed for purity and certify hemp varieties. A public hearing for the bill is scheduled for Feb. 6.

Many common agricultural controversies, such as genetic engineering and pesticide spraying, will not be rehashed in 2018, likely due to stricter limits on bills introduced by lawmakers and committees.

However, the Legislature will consider a proposal to fast-track commercial and industrial developments on low-quality farmland in Eastern Oregon counties with small populations. Proponents say the bill is necessary to stimulate areas with stagnant economies but detractors say it's too heavy-handed and threatens farmland.

A less controversial proposal to be considered in 2018 would provide payment protections for seed crops that are currently only enjoyed by grass seed. Past legislation established deadlines for grass seed growers to receive payments, but other seed crops were excluded from the bill. The latest proposal, which would extend those terms across all seed crops, is supported by farmers and seed dealers alike, at least at this point.

A rather obscure bill would clarify that Oregon water law allows for water transfers among storage reservoirs. While such transfers were traditionally permitted, a new legal interpretation by state attorneys has recently blocked them. Due to the complexities of water law, though, experts predict negotiating the intricacies of this legislation will be tough.

Finally, Oregon farmers would again be allowed to use cell phones while driving, as long as they were transporting livestock or guiding a truck containing livestock. Using cell phones for broad agricultural purposes was legal until lawmakers closed that loophole in 2017.