President Obama recently signed a $1 trillion federal farm bill granting colleges and universities permission to study industrial hemp, and North Dakota is one of 10 states that are currently allowed to produce the crop.
Although North Dakota is one of few states that can grow hemp, it does not see a large harvest due to a mass of regulations.
Burton Johnson, professor of plant sciences and a crop production agronomist, emphasized these regulations.
“The issue is that farmers have many restrictions on where and how they can grow it,” Johnson said.
Johnson said industrial hemp plants may look like hemp cannabis marijuana, depending on the variety.
For most farmers, these regulations are more troublesome to deal with than the benefits of planting hemp.
Hemp contains 0.3 to 1.5 percent tetrahydrocannabinoids, or THC, the hallucinatory agent that gives marijuana its intoxicating effects, compared to five to 10 percent or more found in marijuana.
The Drug Enforcement Agency has a high number of regulations on the growth of hemp due to its relation to marijuana. Officials claim it can make drug enforcement difficult.
The Hemp Industries Association estimated the hemp market’s value in 2012 at more than $500 million. The U.S. currently imports hemp from Canada rather than growing it in mass on its own.
Hemp has been in North Dakota news recently due to the crop being brought to universities across the country, including NDSU. Universities will test the plant for its economic benefits.
“(NDSU’s role is) to research industrial hemp, to test its growing capabilities in different parts of the state to see if it is a viable option,” Johnson said.
President Obama recently signed the latest farm bill that will allow colleges and universities to find ways to effectively grow hemp on an industrial level.
Researchers at NDSU, however, began their preliminary studies over the last 15 years and have found that hemp may have large economic benefits. This new opening in the market could provide a wealthy boom to the economy.
David Ripplinger, assistant professor in agribusiness and applied economics, cited the positive results of the research, and said he believes the opportunity is likely still there.
“What NDSU would do is look at different varieties of industrial hemp grown in other countries around the world, varieties that are well suited to North Dakota,” Ripplinger said.
Ripplinger is also North Dakota’s bioenergy and bioproducts specialist.
One way hemp is used is for its strong fibers. Hemp fibers are 10 times stronger than cotton, and it can grow in less-friendly conditions.
Hemp seeds also produce protein-rich oil that can be used for different products, including food. If the research proves conclusive, additional steps toward progress may occur.
“Industrial hemp has different varieties, which can be used for different purposes so we look at that,” Ripplinger said. “So likely, in the long run if deemed a viable industry, develop varieties of our own.”
However, getting hemp to be a potentially mass-produced crop in North Dakota will, more than likely, not occur soon. It will take some considerable time for the DEA to outline and reduce restrictions and for researchers to produce their results.
“There is a concern that an industrial hemp plant, depending on the variety, might look just like hemp cannabis, the psychotropic drug known as marijuana. The DEA wants to manage that,” Ripplinger said.
“I imagine it is going to take them months if not years to develop their own regulations. That way, United States Drug Administration and DEA can manage research and make sure they have their rules in place before they allow anyone to do this.”