Oregon State University officials announced plans to launch the nation’s largest research center devoted to the study of hemp, and announced that OSU will begin certifying hemp seed for planting in Oregon.
The Global Hemp Innovation Center will be based in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences with research taking place across the state and world. Currently, there are more than 40 OSU faculty representing 19 academic disciplines engaged in hemp research, teaching and extension services. The center will serve as a research hub connecting faculty and researchers engaged in plant research, food innovation, pharmacy, public health, public policy, business and engineering.
Hemp has the potential to become a major agricultural commodity in the United States and abroad with hemp plant fiber being used in manufactured products, including clothing, construction materials and packaging. Meanwhile, hemp seed oil is being investigated for use in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, foods and nutraceuticals. For example, hemp has a long tradition of use in treating ailments by eastern medicine.
Alan Sams, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, said the OSU center will be the world’s most comprehensive resource for the study of hemp.
“Our faculty are already recognized internationally as the go-to experts for hemp research,” Sams said. “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.”
Oregon State’s decision to launch the new hemp center follows Congress’ adoption of the 2018 Farm Bill that removed hemp from the list of controlled drug substances and initiated the creation of a framework for hemp to become a fully legalized commodity in the future.
“Hemp has incredible potential across several industries and sectors, including in food and health products and as a fiber commodity in many products,” Sams said. “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.”
According to the Brightfield Group, an analytics firm that tracks the cannabis industry, the hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) market is expected to grow from $618 million in 2018 to $22 billion by 2022.
OSU already is a go-to partner with Oregon agriculture. The university collaborates with the Oregon Department of Agriculture and various state commodity commissions to certify seeds for as many as 48 agricultural commodities grown in Oregon.
As it launches its seed certification services for hemp, the seeds will be for use by farmers that are registered by the state. Oregon State will be the only university in the nation presently to certify hemp seed.
At this time, only state departments of agriculture in Colorado, North Dakota and Tennessee certify hemp seed for use in those states.
By the end of June, OSU researchers will plant the university’s third crop of hemp plants at 10 university experiment stations located in different climates and soil conditions throughout Oregon. Up to eight plots of hemp totaling no more than five acres will be planted at each experiment station. Hemp material will be harvested as the plants are flowering and will be provided to OSU researchers for study. No pollen or seeds will be produced from this year’s research crop.
Jay Noller, professor of crop and soil science at OSU, will serve as director and lead researcher for the new center.
“We want to understand how to efficiently and sustainably grow hemp for seeds, for hemp fiber materials that can be used in textiles and construction materials, including as an alternate to gravel in concrete, for hemp essential oils that have popular health and wellness uses, and for hemp grain for use in foods and feed. Multi-use hemp is what we are excited about globally.”
Noller said OSU’s hemp research center will have a global impact.
“It’s tempting to think of growing hemp to both build your house and treat disease,” Noller added. “I also like to remind people that hemp food is highly nutritious.”
Noller said Oregon State researchers are working with faculty at universities in Europe and China to explore the propagation and uses of hemp. Meanwhile, Oregon State will host in Corvallis a National Academies of Sciences symposium on hemp in the coming months.
OSU is well-situated to provide research, teaching, and outreach and engagement associated with hemp, Noller said. “We have incredible alignment between our research community, the university’s experiment stations and the OSU Extension Service to engage in strong basic research, applied research and scholarly teaching.
“We have very few agencies nationally involved in understanding the agricultural, economic assessment and public health benefits of hemp. Oregon’s location on the 45th parallel is optimal for hemp growth and a unique hemp germplasm – the genetic material used for breeding – was developed in the state over the past several decades.”
Noller said the engagement of 40 OSU faculty, 19 academic disciplines,10 university experiment stations and the OSU Extension Service will combine to make Oregon State’s hemp research effort the nation’s largest.
Beginning in 1936, the federal government prohibited the propagation of hemp plants. Oregon authorized hemp cultivation in 2009, but the Oregon of Department of Agriculture did not license its first hemp grower until 2015. Just three years later, Oregon ranked third in the United States in licensed hemp acres planted behind Montana and Colorado. The 2018 farm bill decriminalized propagation of hemp, and it is anticipated that over the next year the federal government will have a framework in place to commercially produce and utilize hemp grown in the U.S.
As of mid-May, Oregon has licensed 1,342 growers to plant 46,219 acres of hemp this year, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture. That total is nearly six times greater than the 7,808 acres planted in 2018. Nationally, the number of licensed acres devoted to hemp cultivation increased by 204% from 2017 to 2018, according to Vote Hemp, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization.
Both Oregon and OSU have a long history of hemp cultivation and research. The university, then known as Oregon Agricultural College, partnered with scientists in the U.S. Department of Agriculture to host a national hemp research center from the 1880s until 1932.