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.
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.”