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New Crops Research Program Studies Industrial Hemp

North Dakota farmers are growing industrial hemp for the first time in more than 70 years, and the New Crops research program in the Department of Plant Sciences at North Dakota State University is conducting research to assist them. The Federal Agricultural Act of 2014 and changes in federal and state laws have allowed NDSU researchers and select farmers to begin growing industrial hemp.
 
 

June 2, 2016

North Dakota farmers are growing industrial hemp for the first time in more than 70 years, and the New Crops research program in the Department of Plant Sciences at North Dakota State University is conducting research to assist them. Dr. Burton Johnson leads the New Crops program and the research is conducted at the NDSU Research Extension Center (REC) at Langdon, ND by agronomist Bryan Hanson.

Federal regulation of industrial hemp production changed recently. Previously, according to federal law (Controlled Substances Act of 1970), all Cannabis sativa plants were defined as marijuana regardless of the Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. Industrial hemp is legally defined as less than 0.3% THC, which makes it unsuitable for drug and therapeutic uses. The first regulation change came when the Agricultural Act of 2014 (farm bill) allowed that research institutions and state departments may grow industrial hemp if allowed under state laws. North Dakota addressed this in March 2015 when Governor Jack Dalrymple signed House Bill 1436, which creates guidelines for industrial hemp production and helps to reduce federal policies that made industrial hemp production difficult and cost prohibitive. The North Dakota Department of Agriculture (NDDA) then implemented the industrial hemp pilot program. This allowed NDSU to begin conducting research in 2015 and allowed farmers to apply to be selected to produce industrial hemp under the state and federal guidelines.

Seventeen farmers applied to the pilot project and four were chosen. The selected farmers’ applications indicated that they would grow industrial hemp for hemp oil and a building material called “hempcrete”, which is manufactured from hemp plant pulp, and as a transitional crop for conversion from conventional to organic production. Industrial hemp has other possible uses including fiber, food, paper and textiles. Industrial hemp also can help suppress weed growth and improve soil quality. Doug Goering, the NDDA Commissioner said, “The program’s primary goal is to increase our knowledge of how industrial hemp fits into the existing agriculture landscape and economy.”

The research at the Langdon REC in 2015 included 12 industrial hemp varieties originating from Australia, Canada, Finland and France. Three of the tested varieties are used for both grain and fiber production, three are primarily for grain production and six are primarily for fiber production. All varieties were evaluated for grain and fiber production as well as various agronomic traits such as seed mortality, seedling vigor, plant height and test weight. The results of the trials indicated the Canadian industrial hemp cultivars better adapted to the Langdon region of North Dakota and that grain and fiber yields were similar to those seen in Canada, where industrial hemp has been grown since 1998.

The 2016 variety trials were seeded the last week of May. Research results from 2015 can be seen at www.ag.ndsu.edu/langdonrec/crop-production-management.

Author: Karen Hertsgaard, 701-231-5384,
Editor: Kamie Beeson, 701-231-7123,

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