Persistence has paid off for a team of University of Nebraska-London researchers, who are finally getting the opportunity to study hemp cultivation.
Nearly two and a half years after the Nebraska legislature voted to approve hemp farming for university research, researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have planted their very first crop of industrial hemp. The university was granted permission to import seeds from Italy and Canada by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration this past June.
UNL researchers, led by Ismail Dweikat and Tom Clemente, have seeded about 150 hemp plants within greenhouses located on the university’s East Campus, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. Their initial focus will be on genetically engineering hemp to maximize the oil produced in the plant’s stalks and leaves.
“These are the seedlings we are starting with. So my lab is a biotechnology laboratory, and what we are trying to do is evaluate these different forms of cannabis. In this case hemp,” Clemente, professor of biotechnology and one of the UNL researchers, told KETV Omaha.
The entire hemp plant is useable to produce more than 25,000 products. Hemp oil can be extracted from the plant and used for cannabidiol (CBD) supplements, body care products, industrial lubricants and biodegradable plastics. The plant’s remaining pulp and fibers are used to produce textiles, fibers, rope and building materials. Its seeds can be used as food.
“It’s a whole crop that still has a lot of value,” said Clemente.
Unlike marijuana, industrial hemp contains little to trace amounts of the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It’s been unfairly lumped with its cannabis family member marijuana as a Schedule I substance and therefore federally illegal to cultivate unless done for research purposes and in accordance with state laws.
The hemp grown by Dweikat and Clemente must contain less than 0.3 percent THC, according to stipulations set forth by the DEA and Nebraska Department of Agriculture. Any crops that contain more than 0.3 percent have to be destroyed.
In Nebraska, where soybean and corn are grown heavily, the hope is that hemp crops could offer another supplemental income option for farmers. The UNL researchers are looking to cultivate a particularly profitable strain of hemp that maximizes CBD content and fiber.
“This is not meant to compete or take up the land from soybean areas or corn areas. This is going to be on more marginal land because it needs less input and less water,” Clemente said.
“You want to maximize the number of products you’re making per acre,” he added to the Lincoln Journal Star. “When you’re just selling biomass, it’s tough to make a buck off that.”
While domestic cultivation of hemp is highly restricted, the crop is already legally imported into the U.S. The American hemp market racked up $573 million in sales in 2015, according to a report from Hemp Industries Association (HIA) and market research firm SPINS.
Although the program is in its early stages, the researchers have already discovered that the hemp grown from Canadian seed require more than 14 hours of light per day to prevent prematurely producing flowering sprouts, while the seeds from Italy do well with 14 hours. Also, the plants need to be placed under a constant gentle wind with the use of fans to prevent the plant from slumping over under its own weight.
Learn more about what makes hemp distinct from marijuana by visiting our “What is the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?” page. Learn more about CBD hemp oil and the types of products available here.