Oregonâ€™s industrial hemp crop is poised to grow past $1 billion as products containing CBD, cannabidiol, become more commonplace and since the 2018 farm bill removed industrial hemp from the controlled substance list.
Jockeying for position, hemp growers are snatching up licensing registrations that will allow them to grow industrial hemp, which is used in more than 30,000 products.
Deschutes County is the third-largest industrial hemp-growing county, with Jackson and Josephine counties in southwest Oregon dedicating the most acreage to the crop, according to Oregon Department of Agriculture data. There are 76 industrial hemp farms registered in Deschutes County, compared with 139 in Jackson and 85 in Josephine counties.
Oregon hemp is expected to leap ahead of the stateâ€™s No. 2 commodity, cattle and calves, which were worth $819.8 million in 2017, the most current year data are available, according to Jay Noller, head of Oregon State Universityâ€™s Crop and Soil Science Department.
Oregon ranks third, behind Montana and Colorado, in acreage dedicated to industrial hemp, according to New Frontier Data, a Washington, D.C., cannabis analytics firm.
â€śItâ€™s the newest, hottest craze at the moment,â€ť said Matt Cyrus, a Central Oregon hemp grower and the Deschutes County Farm Bureau president. â€śItâ€™s a beneficial product. I expect in 10 years to be a standard ingredient in everything from dog food to soft drinks.â€ť
Cyrus operates a farm in Sisters. Last year, he farmed 27 acres, and this year, heâ€™ll be planting more than 100 acres in anticipation of a surge in demand for CBD products.
Similarly, Brian Smalley, majority owner of Freedom Hemp Co. in Culver, is among those farmers poised to take advantage of the federal descheduling of industrial hemp. This year, he expanded from a couple hundred acres in Culver to 2,000 acres and plans to plant them all. In addition, heâ€™s investing in a larger on-site processing facility.
â€śIâ€™ve been growing hemp for a long time,â€ť Smalley said. â€śI love the plant. This stuff is amazing.
â€śWeâ€™re in the right climate here, (in Central Oregon). This is hemp paradise. Itâ€™s fantastic.â€ť
Rules still needed
In a state where recreational and medical use of cannabis and hemp are legal, thereâ€™s a potential for opportunity now that the federal government isnâ€™t prohibiting hemp growing and processing, Cyrus said.
Last year, there were nearly 12,000 acres licensed by agriculture officials for hemp production in Oregon, and so far this year, 35,000 acres have been registered, Noller said.
â€śFrom an economic standpoint, itâ€™s a good thing,â€ť Noller said. â€śOregon has a strategic and biological advantage because weâ€™re at the right latitude to produce the genus of cannabis plants.â€ť
Worldwide, industrial hemp is a $3.7 billion industry and is projected to grow 15 percent this year, according to New Frontier.
Growing number of farms
The growth in the number of industrial hemp farms comes at a time when Oregon marijuana growers are struggling with overproduction and declining prices, said Beau Whitney, New Frontier Data vice president and senior economist. Some marijuana farmers have even switched over to industrial hemp because of the saturated legal marijuana market, Whitney said.
â€śIndustrial hemp demand is more stable and is in fact increasing substantially while the state is not oversaturated in supply,â€ť Whitney said. â€śItâ€™s an interesting dynamic in Oregon that a lot of these higher THC growers have switched over to industrial hemp.â€ť
Industrial hemp and cannabis plants look the same but are different in the production of THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive aspect of marijuana that makes people feel high. CBD, which can come from marijuana plants or industrial hemp, contains less than 0.3 percent THC.
In Oregon, hemp plants are tested by private labs before harvesting for THC levels, said Sunny Summers, Oregon Department of Agriculture cannabis policy and special projects coordinator.
â€śIn Oregon, weâ€™re poised to move right into whatever the USDA requires,â€ť Summers said.
CBD products are unregulated and unmonitored by the Food and Drug Administration. They can be bought online, at CBD stores or at state-regulated marijuana retail outlets.
In the past three years, the breadth of CBD-added products has surged. Users swear by CBD as a treatment for everything from anxiety to chronic pain.
â€śConsumer acceptance for cannabis has grown, and retailers see movement for cannabis for medicinal and lifestyle uses,â€ť Whitney said. â€śFor example, Sephora now sells a CBD mask. The growth of the product offerings has exploded.â€ť
CBD from hemp
The U.S. Department of the Agriculture has said it will issue rules overseeing industrial hemp and its products later this year. Those rules will regulate how hemp and CBD can be transferred out of state for processing and sales.
It is legal to transport some forms of industrial hemp-based products across state lines as long as that state has laws aligned with the federal laws, Whitney said. A truck hauling industrial hemp from Oregon to Colorado was stopped in Idaho in late January. State police confiscated about 7,000 pounds of industrial hemp, and the driver could face felony marijuana trafficking charges.
Smalley, the Culver grower, processes and distills his industrial hemp on-site and will be expanding his processing facility over the coming year, which will enable his firm to process hemp for other growers.
Other hemp farms have to send out for processing, Whitney said. There are a limited number of processors in Oregon, which is causing a pinch point, Noller said. More processors are needed to accommodate the surge in hemp production.
Most of the CBD products created from the hemp are considered supplements and are not subject to FDA oversight, Whitney said.
â€śWhat weâ€™re seeing is that the demand is going to be so large for industrial hemp products that it will consume the available processing capacity for some time,â€ť Whitney said. â€śThereâ€™s a lot of growers, but not a whole lot of people who can process the product.â€ť
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