The Roundup -

Hemp A Possible Cash Crop For Eastern Montana


August 7, 2019 | View PDF

Among the many presentations at this year's field day, Drs. Chengci Chen and Apurba Sutradhar discussed industrial hemp as a potential crop for Eastern Montana. Pictured is Dr. Chen with a sample crop of industrial hemp which was approved in the 2018 farm bill. Chen covered potential hemp varieties as well as agronomic practices such as seeding date, fertility rates and when to harvest.

Industrial hemp farming has become increasingly popular. Farmers that are growing hemp are seeing both a demand and profit increase, while farmers who have never grown hemp before are rushing to plant it in their fields.

The production of industrial hemp in the United States was made possible in December 2018 when President Donald Trump signed the Farm Bill into law; the legislation removed hemp from the government's controlled drug category, stimulating a surge in demand for cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical that is derived from hemp plants. This enables Montana farmers the opportunity to include an additional crop choice to their rotation plan with potential for a high return.

Industrial hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa L. and is of the same plant species as marijuana. Hemp, however, has lower levels of the psychoactive compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Hemp contains less than 0.3% THC, while marijuana has over 30% THC.

Hemp is known to be one of the oldest multipurpose crops. It is a faster-growing plant and every single part of the plant can be used. There are global estimates that the hemp market consists of more than 25,000 products. Hemp fiber has the potential to be a valuable feedstock for several well-established industries.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is also of deep and broad interest among pharmaceutical and medical researchers. CBD is known to have strong pharmaceutical effects. Recently, it has been discovered that CBD can be beneficial in the treatment of childhood epilepsy. Currently, only two drugs derived from the substance are FDA approved.

Variety selection, environment, and agronomic management can affect the concentration of CBD. As industrial hemp has not been grown in the United States for many years, data available from the earlier research is not suitable for today's agriculture. Because of this, scientists and researchers have started implementing trials of hemp at the Montana State University Eastern Agricultural Research Center in Sidney, Montana. Dr. Chengci Chen, Superintendent and Cropping Systems Agronomist, and Dr. Apurba Sutradhar, Postdoctoral Research Associate, have been working on the hemp trials in an effort to see how profitable hemp would be if grown in Eastern Montana. "Our goal is to adapt hemp as a mainstream and/or rotational crop for industrial application. The main objective for this research project is to optimize cultivation practices for eastern Montana. We are evaluating germplasm, agronomic parameters, production/harvest for use as fiber, grain, and CBD, nutrient management, and performance of hemp under eastern Montana conditions," explained Sutradhar.

"Agriculture as a whole has changed considerably, so past production information cannot be relied upon to determine how the crop should be grown and harvested today. Local research will be needed to provide specific information on cultural requirements, such as plant spacing, nutritional needs, crop rotation, as well as harvest and processing methods," said Sutradhar.

Chen and Sutradhar explained that this would be an ongoing research project where they will be evaluating variety response to seeding date and plant spacing to tissue CBD concentration. Chen said, "Precise data is not available on the size of the potential market of industrial hemp in the United States. However, current industry estimates report that United States retail sales of all hemp‐based products may be nearly $500 million per year."

There is a lot of excitement in the farming community because hemp is seen as a high-return crop. Many farmers around the country are struggling to make ends meet, and hemp just might be the crop they need to increase profits.


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