Officials at Oregon State University last week announced plans to launch the nation’s largest research center devoted to the study of hemp. In addition to certifying hemp seed for planting within Oregon, the center will be partnering with researchers overseas to collaborate on establishment of uniform standards for the global industry.
The Global Hemp Innovation Center will be based at the university’s College of Agricultural Sciences in Corvallis, with research sites at 10 other locations across the state. It will incorporate the more than 40 OSU faculty representing 19 academic disciplines currently engaged in hemp research, teaching and extension services. The press release announcing the move notes such areas of emphasis as plant research, food innovation, pharmacy, public health, public policy, business and engineering.
Alan Sams, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, boasted: “Our faculty are already recognized internationally as the go-to experts for hemp research. The launch of this center signifies our commitment to continue to build upon that established expertise and grow our impact across the state, the nation and globally.”
An Industry in Need of Standards
While other U.S. universities — most notably Cornell in Ithaca, New York — have hemp research programs, the OSU facility will be the country’s largest. As the announcement was made, Oregon State researchers began to
One of the center’s first projects will be a certification program to guarantee the quality (and legality) of hemp seed for Oregon’s farmers. As an Associated Press account notes, this is a critical need when individual hemp seeds are currently selling for between $1.20 and $1.40 per seed and an acre of crop takes up to 2,000 seeds.
At present, only Colorado, North Dakota and Tennessee have such certification programs, all overseen by their respective state agriculture departments. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is also in the process of establishing. a National Review Board for Hemp Varieties, which should be taking applications this fall from growers who want to establish property rights over new strains.
But, as the name implies, the Global Hemp Innovation Center hopes to be a leader in crafting standards for the industry worldwide. Jay Noller, an OSU professor of crop and soil science who is to head the new center, told the Associated Press: “If you look at a lot of financial markets, they’re all saying, ‘People are investing in this, and we have no idea what to divide it by. We have hemp fiber. What is it? What’s the standard length?’”
As the AP account notes, a unit of wheat is a called a bushel, and a standard weight of potatoes is called a century. But hemp — a fully legal U.S. crop following last year’s Farm Bill — is still so new that a unit of hemp seed doesn’t yet have a universal name or standard quantity.
“This is the first time in U.S. history where we have a new crop that’s suddenly gone from prohibited to no longer prohibited,” Noller said. “We have never had
Oregon as a Global Hub of Hemp Industry
Licensed hemp acreage in Oregon is increasing fast, earning the Beaver State the number three spot for hemp cultivation in the United States after Montana and Colorado, according to the advocacy group Vote Hemp.
The state has licensed 1,342 growers to plant 46,219 acres of hemp this year, by Oregon Department of Agriculture figures. That is a nearly six fold jump over the 7,808 acres planted in 2018.
Anna Symonds, educational director with East Fork Cultivars, an organic cannabis and hemp producer in southern Oregon, portrays the state as ideally situated for the crop. “We are definitely one of the leaders,” she told local KGW8. “We do have an amazing climate for cannabis, but we also have a knowledgeable workforce because it’s been in the culture for so long.”
Noller also emphasizes these points in a promotional video for the new Global Hemp Innovation Center. “The 45th parallel bisects the state in half,” he says. “And the 45th parallel is the optimal latitude for hemp to be grown.”
A map accompanying the video presentation follows the 45th parallel around the world from Oregon to two regions where OSU has partnered with local hemp researchers— Bosnia and Serbia in the Balkans, and the area of northeast China around the city of Harbin.
A meeting in Harbin in early July will bring leaders of the global hemp industry together to start to hash out establishment of universal standards.
Noller also noted a sense of an historical cycle coming around. “By bringing the center to Oregon, you can also think of it as we’re returning it home, because this was the site of national research on hemp from the 1880s all the way up until around 1932. We’re just bringing it home.”
“Hemp has incredible potential across several industries and sectors, including in food and health products and as a fiber commodity in many products,” Sams summed up in the new center’s press release. “We believe that Oregon State University is uniquely positioned to serve the global need for research-based understanding of hemp as a crop and for its use in new products.”
As the press release noted, the Brightfield Group cannabis industry analytics firm projects that the hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) market will to grow from $618 million in 2018 to $22 billion by 2022.
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