If you're looking for a well-rounded and informative piece of content on how to grow hemp within the European Union agricultural framework, you're in the right place.
We'll go through all the steps you have to take to register your hemp variety and start to grow it with no legal concern.
What is the EU common catalogue of varieties of agricultural plant species?
If you want to market a plant variety in the EU, you must first register it in the EU common catalogue.
To put it short, the catalogue is the list of plant varieties that can be marketed in EU countries.
There are two main catalogues:
- Common catalogue of varieties of agricultural plant species
- Common catalogue of varieties of vegetable species
Before being registered on either catalogue, a plant variety must be technically examined and notified to the EU Commission.
The certification process is not a short one, as there are many standards that the plant has to conform with.
Yet, the benefits far outweigh the effort European farmers undertake to get their seeds certified.
Variety registration is the first prerequisite step towards seed certification, followed by a thorough examination by a competent authority.
Why is it required to grow hemp from certified varieties?
When we talk about hemp, we should always be talking about a "Cannabis Sativa L." plant, or its parts, in which the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) level is below the EU regulated maximum (0.2%).
Thanks to its versatility, as many of the plant's parts can be used for a wide variety of purposes, hemp farming is booming.
From 2015 to 2019, hemp cultivation has seen a staggering 75% rise in cultivated hectares.
A sudden increase motivated by the well-known environmental benefits of hemp, especially since we have entered the European Green Deal age.
Yet, with environmental benefits come great responsibilities.
There are two main reasons for which you are required to grow hemp from certified seeds only.
- The level of THC, aka the elephant in the room. Growing hemp is considered legal as long as the THC content of your variety does not exceed the 0.2% mark, meaning that is not psychoactive. Things are changing though, as, from January 2023, the allowed thc content (of registered varieties) will rise up to 0.3%. As you may have guessed by now, if you don't register your hemp variety in the EU common catalogue, the European Union has no way of knowing whether your seeds fall within the 0.2% mark. Hence the requirement to register your hemp seeds.
- Access funding. As the European Union moves towards a greener economy, the European Green Deal's objectives are reshaping the economy of the member countries. Thanks to new funding policies, many farmers can now enjoy financial support from the Union. European hemp farmers are able to receive direct subsidies thanks to the Community Agricultural Policy (CAP), adopted by the European Commission. Yet, as for point 1, in order to access funding, your hemp variety must be registered in the EU common catalogue of varieties of agricultural plant species, there is no way around it.
As we speak, there are 75 hemp varieties listed in the EU common catalogue. All of them are below the required 0.2% THC level.
Different legislation among member countries
Even after having been listed on the catalogue, a hemp variety still needs to face a specific country's legislation.
For instance, let's take Enectaliana, our own hemp variety (more on this below), which will be listed on the EU common catalogue this year.
Enectaliana can be legally cultivated throughout the European Union, as it has been certified by the NAK, the Dutch Agricultural authority.
Yet, even if a hemp variety is registered on the EU catalogue, it can still face some limitations, depending on the member country where one wants to cultivate it.
Long story short, even though there's a European regulation, member countries may still have their own different legislation regarding hemp farming.
The certification trials
To be registered in the EU common catalogue, hemp seeds have to meet several requirements and undergo as many trials by the competent authority of a member country.
Test materials are either removed for measurement by the testers and/or sent to the Examination Office.
We can break down the examination method as follows:
- THC content. Step 0 is to make sure the THC content of the hemp seeds is lower than the maximum level.
- Classification into types. To speed up the assessing process, before sending any test material to the Examination Office, you should break down the collection of samples into different types.
- Growing cycles. Based on the type your test material belongs to, the competent authority will need one to two growing cycles to determine the outcome of the test with more certainty.
The Growing Trial
Next comes the growing trial, during which distinctness, uniformity, and stability will be assessed.
These criteria help the examiners understand whether the hemp plants undergoing the trials can withstand the industry demands and are sufficiently standardized.
Enectaliana: a case study
At Enecta, we faced all of the above trials for Enectaliana, our flagship hemp seed variety, whose core feature is an above-average percentage of produced CBD (5-8%), coupled with the EU required 0.2% THC level.
Enectaliana will be officially listed in the EU common catalogue this year, marking the successful conclusion of a laborious certification process.
First, it was the "Orange Label".
After rigorous testing, Enectaliana was listed on the Dutch Variety Register.
That allowed us to market our hemp variety in the European Union, and to legally grow it.
This means that, even if not yet listed on the EU common catalogue, it is already fair to speak of certified seeds.
Enectaliana's seeds are compliant with the European Union's demands for quality and standardization, and the inclusion in the EU catalogue will mark the culmination of a long process.