Hemp's growth 'exploding' in Oregon

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Hemp is in the midst of another record growth year in Oregon, according to Gary McAninch, the program manager for industrial hemp at the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

During a presentation to the monthly meeting of the Douglas County Livestock Association on March 19, McAninch noted that as of that day, 751 growers, 254 handlers (processors) and 22,435 acres had been registered with the state’s industrial hemp program. He added that many more registrations are expected.

In 2015, there were only 13 growers, 13 handlers and 105 acres registered.

“Hemp’s growth in Oregon has exploded,” McAninch said. “It’s nice to see a farm commodity take off.”

There have been some reports of hemp becoming the state’s top agricultural commodity within the next few years, but McAninch tempered that forecast by saying, “That might just be wishful dreaming by those involved.”

Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis, but industrial hemp contains no more than 0.3 % THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). CBD (cannabidiol) oil is extracted from the plants that test as hemp. There is both pre- and post-harvest testing.

Research has shown the CBD oil has numerous medical and health benefits.

While McAninch said 99% of Oregon’s hemp crop is being grown for the CBD oil, growers believe there is a future for industrial hemp to be used in other products such as textiles, plastic, biofuels, paper and cosmetics.

McAninch said hemp is now being grown in just about all of Oregon’s 36 counties. He and Carri Pirosko, the integrated weed management coordinator for Southwest Oregon, agree that presently Jackson and Josephine counties in Southwest Oregon are the hotspots for hemp growth. As of March 20, there were 147 growers and 48 handlers registered in Jackson County and 90 growers and 16 handlers registered in Josephine County.

Many of those growers and others around the state have registered multiple fields and greenhouses. As of March 20, there were 1,976 hemp locations registered.

“I’m not surprised by that many growers in Jackson and Josephine counties because that is where there are many traditional marijuana growers and they’ve made the switch,” said Pirosko.

McAninch said there was an initial “gold rush mentality” to growing hemp by people who didn’t have a lot of farming experience. But he added there are now traditional farmers and ranchers who are turning some of their grass seed and grain fields and pastures into hemp.

“I think there may still be a stigma attached to hemp because of its relationship to marijuana, I think it is becoming more and more a mainstream agricultural product,” McAninch said. “More and more traditional farmers are becoming involved and that’s giving it more creditability. There is now hemp being grown under pivot and drip irrigation systems.”

The program manager said in order to grow a crop that is tested under the 0.3% THC, it is important to be attentive to the genetics of the seed being planted and to the care of the plants. He added that of the 11,754 acres of industrial hemp registered in 2018, only five fields tested over the 0.3% level and so were not harvested.

It is illegal to grow or handle industrial hemp without a registration. The annual fees are $1,300 for a grower and $1,300 for a handler. There is no limit on the number of acres or plants a registered grower can have.

McAninch said there had previously been little or no research done on hemp, but Oregon State University is now putting together a team to study the plant in relationship to soil, water and chemicals.

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