In this Aug. 21, 2019, file photo, an industrial hemp plant is shown in Clayton Township, Michigan. Credit: Paul Sancya | AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — Players in Maine’s hemp farming industry — including the agriculture department — say recent changes to federal rules about hemp farming will harm the small growers who make up the majority of the state’s hemp business.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture about the interim final rules on Monday. The letter, signed by E. Ann Gibbs, the Maine’s director of the state division of animal and plant health E. Ann Gibbs, said that the rules should be amended because they will be “challenging for states with existing hemp programs and could threaten the future growth of the industry overall.”

The rules have been long awaited in Maine, as farmers have struggled to obtain lines of credit, partnerships with electronic payment companies and insurance without guidance. State officials pleaded with the USDA to release the rules in October after Sheepscot General Farm in Whitefield lost its insurance policies and banking support in one week.

One of the problems Gibbs cites with the new federal rules is that they would require testing labs registered with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Gibbs wrote that rule is “cumbersome at best and impossible to meet at worst,” and that the lab Maine partners with for testing is not registered with the DEA.

She also had concerns about the proposed guidelines on registration with the USDA Farm Service Agency and background checks meant to exclude applicants who had been convicted of a felony in the past 10 years, which Maine currently does not require.

Those requirements would be barriers to the small, newer growers who Gibbs said “make up the bulk of” the state’s 181 licensees. Erica Haywood of Lovegrown Hemp, a hemp farming and research company in Farmington, said she is most concerned with the proposed guidelines concerning levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis.

Current Maine laws only require hemp to contain less than 0.3 percent of one type of THC. The federal rules would require no more than 0.3 percent of total THC when tested by regulators. Gibbs said many varieties grown now won’t meet that threshold and the proposals were “not practical.”

Haywood said the rules as they are would create a “bottleneck” for growers looking to find seeds that will produce plants with acceptable THC levels. She said there are few hemp varieties that fit that description — and they will likely become expensive if demand increased.

Carol Hayes, who runs Dilly Dally Organic Farm in Plymouth and primarily starts seeds for growers, said keeping up with the regulations could be prohibitive for small growers.

“It seems to me like the young guys are going to struggle, but the big people are going to get over it,” she said.

USDA is collecting comments on the hemp rules until Dec. 30. The rules are in effect until November 2021.