|Oregon hemp farming sees "explosive growth"|
Permits more than doubled over the past year.
Sipping a tea brewed from peppermint, licorice root and cannabidiol extract, Rochelle Koch and her husband Peter gaze proudly at their 90-acre hemp farm, Whole Circle Farms, nestled in the foothills of the Willamette Valley. In the fields, part-time high school students harvest indigo and green buds and dry them in wood-framed beds in a barn.
The pastoral scene belies the turbulent world in which the Kochs do business, one defined by outdated regulations, public misconceptions and increasing competition—but also by considerable opportunity.
The Oregon hemp industry is like a raging river, restrained by a dam that might soon break and allow products to flood an array of new markets. A provision in the 2018 Farm Bill before Congress would strike cannabidiol from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of Schedule 1 drugs, those the agency deems to have the highest potential for abuse.
IMG 4294Although the two plants appear similar, hemp provides none of the psychoactive effects of recreation cannabis.
The change could clear the way for Oregon hemp to appear on Amazon and eBay, invite capital investment and unlock international markets. Portland-based lobbyist and lawyer Courtney Moran, who helped draft the language of the provision, says it’s “providing the full, clear legal authority for industrial hemp in the U.S.”
“No. 1, it’s going to loosen up banking opportunity,” says Barry Cook, a hemp farmer in Boring. “Right now we’ve got a banking industry that’s a little bit wiggy when it comes to hemp.”
The new legislation, currently mired in partisan debate, would dramatically expand an already booming market. Over the past year, Oregon more than doubled its hemp production. Licenses to grow hemp, according to the Department of Agriculture, increased from 230 in 2017 to 560 in 2018.
Acres of farmland occupied by the plant more than tripled, from 3,000 to 11,000. The agency added temp workers to handle the overflow.
“We’ve seen explosive growth,” says Gary McAninch, the agency’s industrial hemp program manager. “We’re scrambling on our end to get our work done.”