By Geoffrey Taylor, MA, Hemp Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
Research is reinvigorated in United States academic institutions as a series of studies released recently examining the hemp marketplace provide mixed analyses of the marketplace and a major Congressional action opens up greater opportunities for research on consumer-grade cannabis. As these Universities embark on studies to evaluate these unique marketplaces, the research lends to a greater scientific, economic and agronomic understanding of these emerging markets nationwide.
A recent Infrastructure Bill was approved in Congress allowing for university research institutions to source consumer-grade cannabis from state-regulated facilities for their academic studies rather than sourcing government-grown cannabis from the United States government’s cannabis growing facility, located at the University of Mississippi Research Institute for Pharmaceutical Sciences.
The language within the bill reads “collect and distribute samples and strains of marijuana for scientific research that includes marijuana and products containing marijuana lawfully available to patients or consumers in a state on a retail basis.” Essentially, this allows researchers to access the same types of retail cannabis products that consumers can access in their state-regulated cannabis retail environments, lending valuable insight into numerous aspects of the plant and its variety of consumer-facing forms.
As more cities and counties begin to allow recreational and medical cannabis production, manufacturing and retail operations statewide, cannabis research could not be more important to the legislative decision-making process statewide. Providing greater research into the nutraceutical, pharmaceutical, social and psychological aspects of cannabis use and the presence of cannabis within communities only serves to further normalize cannabis as a legal substance in 36 US states and 4 US territories.
When the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills paved the way for state-level regulation of hemp growing and processing across the country, these acts also provided academia with an immense opportunity to study the growth of a new marketplace within the agricultural and commodity economy. Universities and researchers across the country took notice and began to study every aspect of this new and exciting crop and how it’s role in the agrarian economy could become profitable for producers nationwide.
One multi-year study from the University of Maryland in collaboration with eleven major hemp producers, recently published on July 29, 2021, examines the viability of hemp as a grain and fiber crop. With a focus on agronomics and economics, the study pointed to a variety of challenges facing growers including unanticipated Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, levels that exceed USDA standards and immense fluctuations in the price of biomass as the marketplace was flooded with thousands of new growers nationwide. The study points to decades of lost knowledge of the hemp plant and hemp production as the hemp plant became a controlled substance under United States law in 1970.
Another recent study from Cornell University expounds upon the THC concerns raised by the University of Maryland study, stating that hemp crops exceeding the THC threshold of 0.3% THC are directly related to the genetic aspects of the plants and that no evidence of increased THC levels in hemp were related to environmental stress. This finding will allow breeders to identify low-THC hemp seed genetics and begin to standardize different cultivars in a more consistent manner.
“Hemp is absolutely a viable crop if you’re efficient and focused on producing the highest possible quality biomass. It’s the learning curve for many growers that presents a challenge to the economics of it all,” said Travis Copeland, Owner of Unico Ag. “Hemp is an exceptional crop for many regions nationwide, but it’s really about translating your production capabilities to your processing capabilities to capture the vertical integration aspect of farm to consumer.”
In contrast to the University of Maryland study, another recent study published by the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University argues that hemp is absolutely a viable crop if growers are able to master the learning curve associated with cultivating the crop. Studies conducted at various production fields throughout the state showed varying results statewide, but that it was overwhelmingly a welcome addition to the crop rotation of many farmers who were able to integrate hemp into their profile of annual crops.
As the need for more research on cannabis and hemp is absolutely needed, much of the research being conducted is groundbreaking and serves to transform the face of these industries in the United States. Academics and Researchers are making great strides in providing farmers, growers, investors and others with a stake in these rapidly shifting industries with a unique perspective into the long-term potential, particularly for those bold enough to take the leap into often uncharted waters.