Flandreau tribe sues USDA over industrial hemp plan

Adrian Cable / CC BY-SA 2.0 / MGN
Adrian Cable / CC BY-SA 2.0 / MGN(KALB)
Published: Jun. 5, 2019 at 7:16 PM CDT
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The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe was in court Wednesday asking to be granted a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that would allow the tribe to start growing hemp on their land before establishing United States Department of Agriculture regulations.

The tribe submitted a hemp production plan back in March that they said should have been reviewed within 60 days and now they're arguing that time frame has been exceeded.

At the motions hearing Wednesday, the tribe asked a federal judge to allow them to move forward with the plan while the case continues but the judge won't be issuing an opinion until within the next day.

Production of industrial hemp is a hot commodity that's on the minds of farmers in many states and tribal lands. The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe is suing the USDA and Secretary Sonny Perdue over the tribe's plan to grow hemp.

"The tribe has submitted a plan to the USDA that meets seven factors that congress put into place to ensure appropriate testing’s in place and things in that nature," Tribal Attorney, Seth Pearman said.

The only way the USDA could deny the plan is if it didn't comply with those factors such as a plan to dispose of the plants or procedures to conduct annual inspections.

The 2018 farm bill states, all plans go through the USDA and must be reviewed within 60 days.

"And wouldn't do so until regulations were passed sometime in the fall of 2019 which we believe is a clear violation of the 2018 farm bill," Pearman said.

But in court documents the USDA states those intentions to issue regulations in the fall of 2019 was to accommodate the 2020 planting season.

It also says they've announced its commitment to review state and tribal plans within the 60 days but they emphasize that wouldn't go into effect until regulations are effective.

"So what we'll have to do after we receive the opinion is review it and then make a decision based on what actions are next," Pearman said.

At the hearing, the attorney representing the USDA said that this is not an emergency and is not an extraordinary situation. They simply can't review plans consistently until some sort of regulations are in place.

The tribe said they've been preparing for this crop for some time now.

"And if we're unable to get into this season we would face potential losses of up to 17 million dollars and in doing so we would have to look at cutting some of those essential programs," Pearman said.

He added with the loss of that 17 million dollars it would have a huge impact on the tribe and its members. The USDA said in the court documents it was slowed by the recent government shutdown and that's why they have yet to establish industrial hemp regulations.

The USDA is currently in the process of reviewing and drafting those guidelines and regulations.