More Oregon Farmers Focus on Hemp
Driving through the working lands around cities throughout the state, it’s tempting to think that the legalization of recreational cannabis usage has convinced most if not all farmers to shift their primary crops to marijuana — but you would be sorely mistaken. What might look like acres and acres of good kush is most likely a farm for hemp, which is vastly different from the plant that produces the famous stoner’s high. But how is hemp different, and why are farmers preferring this crop over the seemingly more lucrative marijuana plant?
Hemp vs. Marijuana
Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants that belongs in the same family as the plants that produce hops and hackberries. Cannabis has long been divided into three species: indica, sativa and ruderalis. Each species is defined by physical characteristics of the plant; indica is short with broad leaves, sativa is tall with thin leaves, and ruderalis is scrawny with leaves of a different shape. Misinformation within the cannabis community often leads to the belief that indica and sativa strains are marijuana, whereas ruderalis is a form of hemp — but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
As more funding is devoted to understanding what cannabis is and how it works, experts are beginning to realize that the physical shape of a cannabis plant has almost no determination on its psychotropic effects. Instead, plants are bred to contain high or low levels of THC. Hemp is defined as a cannabis plant with .3 percent or lower THC by dry weight, and cannabis varieties that contain more THC content are classified as marijuana. In the Agricultural Act of 2018, these definitions were legitimized, and farmers everywhere in the U.S. were legally allowed to grow hemp and even export it across state lines.
While the benefits of marijuana use are constantly under scrutiny, most people agree that hemp has its applications. Hemp produces an incredibly robust natural fiber that can be used to create exceedingly durable textiles, paper goods and building materials. Additionally, hemp seeds are high in protein, making them a nutritious supplement to anyone’s diet. However, the reason so many farmers are migrating to hemp isn’t hemp’s strength or nutrient density — rather, it is the CBD.
Though hemp is low in THC and does not produce a psychotropic effect when smoked or ingested, it does contain a great deal of cannabis’s other major cannabinoid. CBD has shown promising effects in treating neurological disorders like epilepsy and schizophrenia as well as some neurological pain — but currently, CBD is marketed as a cure-all, helping people manage everything from depression to diabetes. These days, CBD is put into everything: capsules, oils, lotions, gummies, vape cartridges, skin patches, bath salts, chocolates and even pet treats. The CBD market is booming, and farmers want a cut.
Hemp Is Better for Oregon Farmers
In 2015, Oregon had just 105 acres of hemp, and at the end of 2018, Oregon licensed about 7,808 acres of hemp fields. By October 2019, the state counted more than 56,000 acres of hemp, and that number is growing by the day. Hemp is an exceedingly exciting opportunity for many farmers, who can increase their earnings per acre by as much as 3900 percent — from about $1,000 per acre with corn to over $40,000 per acre with hemp.
With high humidity and rainfall but mild temperatures, Oregon has a near-ideal climate for cannabis, meaning a field of hemp is relatively easy to manage for farmers in the area. Though there is some chance of a hemp crop growing mold before or after harvest, hemp is generally a low-risk investment for farmers — except for all the people who think hemp and marijuana are the same. Thieves often sneak into cannabis fields expecting to pilfer marijuana for personal consumption or illegal sale — but instead do significant damage to a crop of hemp. Some farmers hire security to guard their crop, but most cannot afford such an expense. Additionally, because hemp looks and smells like marijuana, farmers often receive complaints from neighbors or passersby, which take time and energy to address.
As yet, legalization of the crop is too new for experts to determine whether this rapid and widespread switch to hemp is financially wise for farmers or the state as a whole. Until then, farmers would be wise to diversify their land — and consumers should stick to high-quality, Oregon-grown products.