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The Global Hemp Innovation Center at Oregon State University announced last week that it has received a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study and define the economic opportunities for hemp in the western United States.
Provided by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Sustainable Agricultural Systems grant program, OSU scientists plan to use the funding to partner with eight institutions across the country in a five-year research program.
The research will be designed to address the needs of businesses in Native American and rural communities in a vast region of the Western Pacific United States covering four states. Jeffrey Steiner, associate director of the hemp center at OSU, told reporters that the funding received for the research program is one of the largest grants to study hemp ever awarded.
“We just feel really fortunate to get it,” Steiner said. “It’s a very competitive program, and we’re among the elite institutions to get the money.”
Establishing a Robust Hemp Economy
Although hemp agriculture and products made from hemp were legalized with the 2018 Farm Bill, developing a comprehensive industry to produce grain and fiber from hemp as well as CBD and other cannabinoids has had a sluggish start so far. More research is needed to study where different types of hemp can best be grown and the best genetics and farming techniques to use.
Researchers also plan to study where to best process the hemp materials grown in the region, likely growth markets to support the expansion of the hemp industry, and how to incorporate the crop into existing production systems in order to complement rather than disrupt markets.
“We established the Global Hemp Innovation Center in 2019 to bring together a wide variety of stakeholders to address big unanswered questions about the hemp industry,” Steiner said in a statement from the university. “While enthusiasm for hemp has grown, there is still a tremendous lack of knowledge about the crop.”
The research funded by the USDA grant will focus on the rural transportation corridor that runs through Washington, Oregon, Nevada and California east of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, from the southern to northern borders of the United States. The immense region encompasses a variety of mostly arid environmental conditions with large areas of both irrigated and non-irrigated agricultural production.
Creating Equity in the Hemp Industry
The four-state area to be studied includes a significant number of Native American Tribes and leading researchers including Native American farmers and tribal leaders in the research project, specifically Laurie Danzuka, the cannabis project coordinator for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Oregon. Through this collaboration, researchers plan to include the cultural and economic needs of tribal communities as part of business development efforts for the region.
“The Warm Springs Tribe has interest in exploring and expanding our agricultural opportunities in hemp production and this is one avenue to achieve this,” Laurie said. “This collaboration will allow us to identify potential sustainable uses for hemp, utilize best farming practices and provide learning opportunities to the membership.”
Steiner added that including tribal communities in the research will introduce Native American students to different aspects of the emerging hemp industry while addressing the historic inequities in American agriculture.
“The up-front involvement of tribal communities along with other rural communities in this work is critical to its success,” Steiner said. “The potential economic opportunities this new commodity may have presented tremendous potential for rural communities, and our project has set out to ensure those opportunities are equally available and relevant to all kinds of farmers.”
Scientists with Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences and researchers from OSU’s colleges of Business, Engineering, and Pharmacy, and the university’s Extension Service will collaborate with Global Hemp Innovation Center scientists in the research program.
They will be joined by research partners from the University of California, Davis; Washington State University; University of Nevada, Reno Extension; the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Volpe National Transportation Systems Research Center, the Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program; 7 Generations, a Native American-owned firm that specializes in business development for tribal communities and the USDA’s National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service and Western Rural Development Center.
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