A unit of wheat is a called a bushel, and a standard weight of potatoes is called a century. But hemp as a fully legal U.S. agricultural commodity is so new that a unit of hemp seed doesn't yet have a universal name or an agreed-upon quantity.
That's one example of the startling lack of uniformity—and accountability—in an industry that's sprung up almost overnight since the U.S. late last year removed hemp from the controlled substances list.
A global hemp research lab announced Thursday in Oregon, coupled with a nascent national review board for hemp varieties and a handful of seed certification programs nationwide, are the first stabs at addressing those concerns—and at creating accountability by standardizing U.S. hemp for a global market.
"If you look at a lot of financial markets, they're all saying, 'People are investing in this, and we have no idea what to divide it by," said Jay Noller, head of Oregon State University's new Global Hemp Innovation Center. "We have hemp fiber. What is it? What's the standard length?"
Oregon State's research hub will be the United States' largest and will offer a certification for hemp seed that guarantees farmers the seed they're buying is legitimate and legal. That's a critical need when individual hemp seeds are currently selling for between $1.20 and $1.40 per seed—and an acre of crop takes up to 2,000 seeds, Noller said.
In this Thursday, June 13, 2019, photo, Jay Noller, director and lead researcher for Oregon State University's newly formed Global Hemp Innovation Center, left, inspects young hemp plants with Lloyd Nackley, a plant ecologist with the Oregon State University Extension Service, at one of the university's hemp research stations in Aurora, Ore. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)
Licensed hemp acreage in Oregon, which has an ideal climate for growing the crop, has increased six-fold since last year, earning Oregon the No. 3 spot for hemp cultivation after Montana and Colorado, according to Vote Hemp, which advocates for and tracks the industry in the U.S.
Four other states—North Dakota, Colorado, Tennessee and North Carolina—also have hemp seed certification programs. Other U.S. universities, such as Cornell in Ithaca, New York, have hemp research programs, but Oregon State's will be the largest, built on years of hemp research done in test fields in China, Bosnia and Serbia and now at 10 research stations sprinkled across the state. On Thursday, Oregon State researchers began to sow their third crop in a field in Aurora.
The new center dovetails with a greater movement to create a national infrastructure around hemp as the market explodes. Globally, the supply of hemp is less than 10% of the demand, and that's driving states like Oregon to rush to stake a claim in the international marketplace, Noller said.
Across the U.S., the number of licensed acres of hemp jumped 204% from 2017 to 2018, according to Vote Hemp. And the market for a hemp-derived extract called cannabidiol, or CBD, is expected to grow from $618 million in 2018 to $22 billion in 2022 as its popularity as a health aide skyrockets.
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