While the sheer scope of what we have yet to learn about industrial hemp might seem daunting, an army of researchers across the United States is taking up the challenge.
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is currently funding dozens of projects, in various competitive and noncompetitive programs, aimed at creating knowledge that will help make hemp a viable and lucrative crop in the U.S.
In fiscal years 2021 and 2022 alone, NIFA has invested well over $20 million in hemp-related investigations. From large multistate efforts to grants supporting small businesses developing innovative technologies, these projects are seeking to develop the know-how that will help producers, processors, regulators and officials make the best decisions about cultivating industrial hemp.
The business of growing and selling industrial hemp
NIFA is currently funding several projects aimed at uncovering the economic opportunities and risks associated with growing hemp.
- At North Carolina A&T State University, a $500,000 project led by Dr. Obed Quaicoe is determining why farmers go into hemp production; how profitable hemp farms are; what potential risks are associated with hemp production; and what nutrient combinations enhance plant growth and reduce disease.
- In Michigan, Dr. Stephen Yanni at Bay Mills Community College is launching a Hemp Tribal Research Initiative ($499,000) that joins the tribal college’s expertise with that of Michigan State University, Lake Superior State University and the Little Traverse Bay of Odawa Indians to facilitate the successful adoption of hemp by the state’s tribal communities.
- At Oregon State University, a $638,000 project led by Dr. David Hendrix is examining both hemp and hop to reveal how both evolved and diverged, and what genotypes might regulate the production of flavor and aroma compounds, both of which are characteristics that make the plants valuable.
- At the University of Vermont, Dr. Jane Kolodinsky is leading a $500,000 project that seeks to identify what economic impact a hemp sector might have on the state’s rural communities.
Developing best practices for hemp crop management
Much of the knowledge base on optimal hemp production in the U.S. is either lost or outdated, and scientists are working collaboratively to quickly fill those gaps.
- At the University of Kentucky, Dr. Luke Moe is leading an Agriculture and Food Research Initiative project to establish a framework for studying industrial hemp and its sustainability as a rotation crop. This work will also train scientists in hemp agronomy and agroecosystem services. ($500,000)
- Dr. Charlie Brummer and a group of collaborators are leading a project at the University of California, Davis, to establish a public hemp germplasm in the U.S. They will collect, characterize and evaluate collections of plant genes from Washington, California and Oregon for submission to the National Plant Germplasm System managed by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. ($125,000)
- Through funding provided by the Hatch Act of 1887, NIFA is supporting a series of projects that are investigating the viability of hemp in New Jersey (Rutgers University), insect pest management strategies in Alabama (Auburn University), and which arthropods act as pests for hemp in Utah (Utah State University).
- At Cornell University, Dr. Lynn Sosnoskie is leading a multistate research project that seeks to evaluate practices and develop recommendations for integrated weed management in hemp production. This study will consist of experiments in New York, Virginia, South Carolina, Illinois and North Dakota. ($325,000)
Identifying new frontiers in hemp
In addition to establishing the foundational knowledge for the optimal cultivation of industrial hemp, researchers are exploring ways to extract value from the plant beyond its traditional utilizations.
- At Central State University in Ohio, Dr. Brandy Phipps is leading a $10 million project that brings researchers from Minority-Serving Institutions and 1862 Land-grant Universities together to explore how hemp can be used as a safe, environmentally friendly food additive in sustainable aquaculture.
- At North Carolina A&T State University, Dr. Leonard L. Williams is leading a project that seeks to determine whether hemp and mushroom plant extracts can be used as an alternative antiviral and disinfectant replacement for the control of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on food contact and other surfaces.
- Dr. Massimo Bionaz, a researcher at Oregon State University, is leading a $300,000 project that is investigating the viability of using spent hemp biomass in livestock diets. This work builds on an existing project being undertaken through a cooperative agreement by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and North Dakota State University that is investigating the effects of hemp seed meal in feedlot cattle.
Read Part 1 of this blog to learn more about USDA efforts in gathering data and other information to help restore hemp as a lucrative and viable business in the U.S.