A complaint filed in federal court alleges that a Farm Service Agency official in Oklahoma has been lying to and threatening farmers who express interest in growing hemp under an official state program.
In place since April 2018, the Oklahoma Industrial Hemp Pilot Program was established to allow for crop research while the product was still considered an illegal drug under the federal Controlled Substances Schedule. The U.S. Farm Bill, signed late last year, removed hemp from the schedule, ensuring farming and commerce could proceed without the threat of federal prosecution as long as the product does not exceed 0.3% THC.
A new law awaiting the signature of Gov. Kevin Stitt would expand the program in Oklahoma to allow for commercial production of industrial hemp, but currently only farmers contracted through a licensed state university or college may participate in hemp research through the pilot program.
The lawsuit plaintiff, Equitable Organic Ventures, claims it got 20 farmers on board to grow hemp for its program through an unnamed higher education institution.
The complaint alleges that the farmers who had offered verbal commitments to EOV were encouraged to contact the Farm Service Agency office in Oklahoma regarding their participation in the program. Upon doing so, the lawsuit alleges, the Oklahoma division’s Executive Director Scott Biggs told them “if they enter into a contract with EOV, or if they plant even one hemp seed, they will be subject to losing their existing farm loans, be ineligible for further loans from the FSA, and be subject to criminal charges.”
The FSA offers farm loans, crop insurance and other benefits to support and enable farming operations nationwide.
Biggs could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
In an affidavit submitted as evidence, a Harmon County farmer confirms an FSA employee responded to his interest in the hemp program by reading an email from Biggs stating not only that his farm’s FSA eligibility would be revoked, but the farmer’s landlords could also be subject to penalties. The farmer stated that Biggs did not return two phone calls after that conversation with a local FSA employee.
The plaintiff asks for a declaratory judgment that participation in the Oklahoma Hemp Program is not precluded by FSA guidelines, as well as an injunction to stop Biggs and the FSA from “making erroneous statements and threats to Oklahoma farmers.” The lawsuit claims that Biggs issued no written documentation to that effect, instead directing phone calls on the issue only to himself.
The complaint adds that a delay, as the growing season has already begun, would keep EOV from being able to participate in the hemp program in 2019.