"Don't Hurry Into Hemp" - 2019 Ohio State Trial Results
Licenses for hemp cultivation and processing are available in Ohio beginning this week. However, Brad Bergefurd, horticulture specialist at Ohio State’s South Centers, warns potential growers to consider carefully before clearing ground for our state’s budding hemp industry.
“Long term, I think Ohio hemp for seed, fiber and possible nutraceutical products has great economic potential for Ohio agriculture,” says Bergefurd, “but I am afraid early adopters of this crop right now could be setting themselves up for failure if they have not firmly developed their own hemp marketing and production plants well in advance.”
Hemp production has high potential as an organic product, especially for CBD production, which is the type of production Ohio State’s trials focused on. Since CBD is used in health products, manufacturers prefer or require organic practices. But the risk level is high, says Bergefurd. From the university hemp trials in 2019, he found production was very labor-intensive and required specialized equipment for planting, harvesting, and drying. Planting costs alone were around $10,000 - $15,000 per acre. These are risky investments for a crop that might ultimately be confiscated if it fails to meet minimum THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) levels.
Even though the university purchased low-THC varieties, all the southern Ohio trials failed to pass the legal minimum for THC, says Bergefurd, which is not an uncommon problem. The issue of illegal THC levels, along with falling prices from a national oversupply of CBD hemp, have caused serious losses for farmers in Kentucky and other southern states in the past year, leading to economic strain and farm foreclosures. He doesn’t want to see that happen in Ohio.
In addition to the low THC requirement (0.3% for hemp--compared to average marijuana THC content of 3.5%), hemp crops must be harvested within 15 days of Ohio Department of Agriculture’s THC testing. In the Ohio trials, levels of both THC and CBD rose with decreasing moisture levels, leaving much of a farmer’s fate up to the weather. That’s nothing new; but combined with the other risks and start-up costs, it might give a grower pause.
“We just have a lot of research work to do before we are fully prepared,” says Bergefurd. “Not only for growing the crop, but we have limited to no hemp buyers, or processing and marketing infrastructure developed in Ohio as of today.”
After all, it’s been nearly 80 years since hemp was last grown legally in Ohio. Bergefurd says research is needed to develop management practices for pest control and other production concerns, along with breeding programs to develop varieties better suited to the low THC requirements. He is hopeful that legalizing hemp will be an important first step in creating the research and investment needed to make hemp a viable new market for Ohio.
Ellen Essman, from Ohio State's Law Office urges growers to read through the Ohio Department of Agriculture's Hemp Program page carefully to become familiar with the many rules and fees involved.
"If you wish to grow or process hemp," she writes in the OSU Farm Office Blog, "there are detailed rules you must follow, such as getting your sites approved, setback requirements, land use restrictions, and providing ODA with information like GPS coordinates of the land and the number of acres and plants you cultivate, just to name a few."
- "Don’t Hurry Into Hemp” article from OSU South Centers.