Industrial Hemp Farming Off To A Slow Start in Oregon

Industrial Hemp Farming Off To A Slow Start in Oregon

Industrial hemp has been approved for farming in Oregon, but the would-be cash crop is having trouble getting off the ground. Lawmakers originally signed off on the plant in 2009, but 2015 finally saw the first licenses for growth and seed production. Despite possible future hurdles from the state’s legislature, growers are optimistic that the local hemp industry will be successful and bring greater economic prosperity to the area.

Oregon is only one of a handful of states that has moved ahead with legalizing industrial hemp despite the fact that it remains illegal under federal law. Additionally, beginning on July 1, the state will allow the recreational use of cannabis. While many are discussing the potential pros and cons of legal marijuana, few are discussing how industrial hemp might affect Oregon’s agriculture and economy.

Hemp growers face a number of obstacles before they begin to farm the cannabis cousin. Currently, farmers must pay $1,500 for a three-year growing license and another $1,500 if they want to procure a seed production permit. However, once individuals have these permits, they still must navigate finding both seeds and farming space.

Hemp seeds are illegal to import into the United States unless they are shelled, and it may be difficult to find seed, period. Some growers have had to resort to procuring seeds from countries like Slovakia, China and Germany.

oregon hemp farming regulations

Perhaps the most vexing task of a new hemp farmer is locating and securing a plot of land. Medical and recreational cannabis growers are concerned about cross-pollination. The established strains contain a high THC content, while hemp contains lower amounts of the psychoactive chemical. As such, cannabis growers are concerned that having hemp in the same area will dilute the potency of their strains.

A bill pending in the House Rules Committee stands to prohibit hemp growth in the Southern Oregon counties of Douglas, Jackson and Josephine. The measure may be temporary, but the bill would enforce a 5-mile separation between cannabis and hemp farmers. Some hemp growers believe this would functionally prohibit farming of the plant entirely since medical and recreational cannabis farms fill the area.

Cliff Thomason, a permit-holding hemp farmer, stated,

“I keep saying with responsible farming practices, it will regulate itself.”

In fact, in the spirit of being a good neighbor, Thomason only transplants his female plants outdoors, while he keeps the pollen-bearing male plants in greenhouses.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture issued a total of 13 hemp licenses to local citizens. At this point, it is unclear exactly how many permit holders have followed through with planting a crop for the 2015 growing season. Edgar Winters from Eagle Point, another hemp license holder, estimates that six of his colleagues have planted and expect a crop, although he does not plan to grow hemp this year.

In spite of these initial hiccups, hemp supporters are optimistic for the future. They consider the plant to be fairly easy to grow with a high value. Hemp is useful for hundreds of products including medicine, food, clothing and cosmetics. Thomason has an ambitious goal of having 10,000 acres of industrial hemp growing in five years, and as he said, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

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Oregon Establishes New Regulations for Industrial Hemp Farming

Oregon Establishes New Regulations for Industrial Hemp Farming

Hemp production has remained in limbo for some time now in Oregon. The state passed a law in 2009 that legalized the production of hemp at an industrial level, but the federal government still considers it a banned substance. For this reason, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) designed new regulations regarding hemp in a way that will reflect Oregon’s current law, which views it as a safe product, without going against any federal laws.

The federal government has declared that it will allow states to continue with a hemp industry as long as they implement thorough regulation and inspection processes. The main way the ODA has achieved this comes from permits and licenses to grow the crop. This set-up was agreed upon in order to create a system that provides enough money for inspecting, testing and generally regulating the product. The ODA set fees according to these needs while attempting to keep the fees low enough for investors in this new industry.

The ODA rules also establish the conditions under which production may take place and how products must be handled. Permits and licenses have already become available and many growers have said they will have time to prepare for a planting season in the spring of 2015. Licenses will cover the growth and handling of industrial hemp fiber. Those wishing to grow and handle the actual hemp seeds will require an additional permit and license.

The three-year permits cost $1,500 for organizations with more than 2.5 of conjoining agricultural land dedicated to hemp production. Growers also have to conform to regulations regarding the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana. This will help ensure that all operations are genuinely geared toward the production of hemp fiber. The ODA has restricted the use of hemp seeds to the planting of new crops, as opposed to products like hemp oil, although some have questioned the reasons for this restriction.

industrial hemp

Edgar Winters (photo above), of Eagle Point, Oregon was awarded the first permit to cultivate industrial hemp from seeds, but actually getting started requires jumping through hoops. Winters told Capital Press,

“We are in position to do 40 tons a day at our processing mill. We’ve got our ducks in a row.”

However, they are currently at a standstill while waiting for the ODA and Oregon State University to receive approval from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to import the seeds. They cannot begin anything until the green light is granted on the project.

Due to pre-existing federal laws, hemp seeds have not been allowed in the United States, including Oregon. The ODA has proceeded to investigate the possibility of importing seeds for agricultural hemp production. Several countries around the world already have legalized hemp seed and fiber industries and may be candidates for importers. All producers, whether dealing with fiber or seeds will have to submit to inspection and sampling by the ODA and follow the reporting and record keeping protocols outlined by the ODA.


photo credit: Mail Tribune

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