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Hemp Industry Looking for Standards    06/17 06:34

   AURORA, Ore. (AP) -- A unit of wheat is called a bushel, and a standard 
weight of potatoes is called a century. But hemp as a fully legal U.S. 
agricultural commodity is so new that a unit of hemp seed doesn't yet have a 
universal name or an agreed-upon quantity.

   That's one example of the startling lack of uniformity --- and 
accountability --- in an industry that's sprung up almost overnight since the 
U.S. late last year removed hemp from the controlled substances list.

   A global hemp research lab announced Thursday in Oregon, coupled with a 
nascent national review board for hemp varieties and a handful of seed 
certification programs nationwide, are the first stabs at addressing those 
concerns --- and at creating accountability by standardizing U.S. hemp for a 
global market.

   "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," said Jay Noller, 
head of Oregon State University's new Global Hemp Innovation Center. "We have 
hemp fiber. What is it? What's the standard length?"

   Oregon State's research hub will be the United States' largest and will 
offer a certification for hemp seed that guarantees farmers the seed they're 
buying is legitimate and legal. That's a critical need when individual hemp 
seeds are selling for $1.20 to $1.40 each --- and an acre of crop takes up to 
2,000 seeds, Noller said.

   Licensed hemp acreage in Oregon, which has an ideal climate for growing the 
crop, has increased six-fold since last year, earning Oregon the No. 3 spot for 
hemp cultivation after Montana and Colorado, according to Vote Hemp, which 
advocates for and tracks the industry in the U.S.

   Four other states --- North Dakota, Colorado, Tennessee and North Carolina 
--- also have hemp seed certification programs. Other U.S. universities, such 
as Cornell in Ithaca, New York, have hemp research programs, but Oregon State's 
will be the largest, built on years of hemp research done in test fields in 
China, Bosnia and Serbia and now at 10 research stations sprinkled across the 
state. On Thursday, Oregon State researchers began to sow their third crop in a 
field in Aurora.

   The new center dovetails with a greater movement to create a national 
infrastructure around hemp as the market explodes. Globally, the supply of hemp 
is less than 10% of the demand, and that's driving states like Oregon to rush 
to stake a claim in the international marketplace, Noller said.

   Across the U.S., the number of licensed acres of hemp jumped 204% from 2017 
to 2018, according to Vote Hemp. And the market for a hemp-derived extract 
called cannabidiol, or CBD, is expected to grow from $618 million in 2018 to 
$22 billion in 2022 as its popularity as a health aide skyrockets.

   The U.S. National Review Board for Hemp Varieties will start taking 
applications in the fall from growers who want to claim credit for specific 
genetic varieties of hemp. Once growers have secured a unique designation from 
the board, they can apply for a plant patent with the U.S. government so no 
other grower can produce that type of hemp.

   A meeting in Harbin, China, in early July will bring together members of the 
global hemp industry to start to hash out critical details such as what to call 
a unit of hemp seed or the standard length of hemp fiber, Noller said. Other 
countries, such as China, have been growing hemp for years, but the industry 
lacks a universal standard countries can apply to trade, he said.

   "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 something like this."

   Hemp growers like Trey Willison applauded the move toward greater 
transparency in a booming market.

   Some novice farmers are falling prey to seed sellers who secretly, or even 
unwittingly, market seed that grows into "hot" cannabis plants, with THC levels 
too high to market legally as hemp, he said.

   Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis plants but have different THC levels. 
Marijuana, illegal under federal law, refers to plants with more than a trace 
of THC. Hemp has almost no THC --- 0.3% or less under U.S. government standards.

   States with hemp programs test for THC in the crops, but do so after the 
plants are grown and close to harvest. Crops that test over the THC limit for 
hemp must be destroyed --- and farmers with bad seed might not know until it's 
too late, Willison said.

   In one case last year, an Oregon seed seller marketed seeds on Craigslist as 
having a 3-to-1 CBD to THC ratio --- but unbeknownst to farmers, the THC levels 
were still too high to be legal, he said. Several farms in Wisconsin, where 
agricultural hemp was just getting underway, bought the seeds and then went 
under when the resulting plants tested "hot," Willison said.

   The seeds "look identical, and you can't tell them apart until four months 
into the year, when you know something's wrong," he said. "A bunch of farms 
failed, and it originated in Oregon."

   Other sellers are marking up the cost of what he called "garbage seed" as 
much as 1,000 times, said Willison, who started Unique Botanicals in 
Springfield, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Portland, after leaving 
his marijuana-growing business due to a glut of weed in the Oregon market.

   "A lot of people say, 'Is your seed certified?' and there's no such thing as 
certified seed right now. There's no test, there's no oversight. ... There's no 
proof of where the seed is coming from," he said.

   "They're trying. It's at the very beginning, for sure, but they are trying 
to do something about this mess."


(KA)

 
 
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