Pubdate: Fri, 06 Dec 2013
Source: Capital Press (OR)
Copyright: 2013 Capital Press Agriculture Weekly


The more we find out about hemp the less we like it as an option for 
western farmers.

The more we learn about hemp, the less enthusiastic we are about it 
as an option for western farmers.

It is illegal under federal law, the market for it is minuscule and 
it requires a lot of water, which is a precious commodity nearly 
everywhere in the region.

On the plus side, it's easy to grow. It's still found in ditches in 
parts of the Midwest, where it was grown during World War II to make rope.

The economics of growing hemp appear to be marginal at best. The 
folks at Oregon State University ran some numbers on it. Providing 
that a reliable market could be found or established, it would bring 
in upward of $400 an acre - a bit more than half what wheat would 
bring in, according to OSU. The kicker: It would grow best in eastern 
Oregon but requires 20 to 28 inches of irrigation.

In Canada, as recently as 2011, a total 39,000 acres of hemp were 
grown and farmers netted $200 to $250 an acre, according to the 
Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance.

Considering those factors, we are not surprised that virtually no one 
outside Portland, Eugene and a few other hotspots is clamoring for 
the ability to grow the stuff. No mainline farm group has expressed 
any interest in it whatsoever.

Economics aside, the fundamental hurdle that hempsters must get past 
is its illegality. States such as Oregon and, most recently, 
California, have declared that hemp is distinct from marijuana and 
have approved hemp's cultivation. The U.S. House version of the farm 
bill does the same, though we have to wonder when Congress will 
approve any farm bill, let alone one that embraces hemp. The U.S. 
attorney in Oregon even said growing hemp was OK, but since then has 
waffled on her statement.

One other state where hemp has gained supporters is Kentucky, where 
some farmers are looking for an alternative to growing tobacco. Even 
there, the state attorney general has issued a warning that hemp is, 
and will continue to be, illegal until Congress says otherwise.

In the meantime, hemp is included with marijuana as a Schedule I 
controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 
1970. The problem is that hemp and marijuana are the same species. 
Only the amount of active tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the 
psychoactive compound found in both, is different. Differentiation 
between the two would require close scrutiny and testing. It should 
also be noted that hemp can be processed to concentrate the amount of 
THC from it to provide a potent drug.

Unless and until Congress, in its wisdom, decides that hemp should be 
grown in the U.S., the federal law will still be the controlling law 
in Oregon, California and other states.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture is putting together a committee 
to study what to do about hemp. Our advice: Do nothing. Either 
Congress will act on the issue, or it won't. Either way, the state 
needn't get itself - and farmers - caught up in the cloud of legal 
uncertainty that exists today.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom