Hemp growers and private-sector researchers in southeastern Oregon believe the crop could perform better there given the region’s ideal conditions.
On research plots in Ontario, they’re trying to determine how irrigation water and nutrients can be best applied to optimize production of cannabidiol — known by the initials CBD — associated with certain wellness benefits. They’re also trying to determine which hemp varieties work best in the area.
Plant physiologist and agronomist Clint Shock, with Scientific Ecological Services and Medicinal Botanical Seed in Ontario, said most fields were not successful last year among the area’s nine growers, including the biggest planting. Some growers made money anyway on the high price of CBD oil.
Some of the plantings were over-watered, he said. Some got too dry — including because they were planted late or planted under black plastic that made the ground hotter — and failed to survive summer heat.
Shock said these results materialized despite local advantages such as dry weather and long days, irrigation water that is ample and of high quality, and a June-October period light in rain and low in humidity. Silt-loam soil, which drains well while allowing water to percolate downward, is another plus.
“So we basically have a strategic advantage if we learn how to use the climate to our advantage,” he said. “We have some ideas about the irrigation criteria and the nutrient criteria. We are going to test those.”
The research field, next to Scientific Ecological and Medicinal Botanical offices, is set up for five unique drip irrigation-and-nutrient scenarios, which will be repeated four times. Regular soil and plant-tissue samples measure how well the treatments are working.
Oregon has had a hemp program for several years. But as a fairly new crop, “there are no good guidelines for irrigation, fertilization and many other things,” Shock said.
Israel-based Netafim, a drip-irrigation specialist with operations in Fresno, Calif., is providing financial support and some field resources.
Ami Gips, research agronomist with the company, was working at the Ontario plots June 5. He said information gathered over a few growing seasons in southeastern Oregon could help the local industry and inform a protocol valuable at various locations.
Western Laboratories is providing soil solution and nutrient analysis from Nyssa, Ore., to develop crop curves that show nutrient requirements for different yield goals, owner John Taberna said. That is now based on work Western has done in three states on hops, but “we will fine-tune it over time for CBD and hemp seed.”
For southeastern Oregon, Shock and Medicinal Botanical partner and grower Ben “Blu” Fortner are researching hemp seed varieties that produce the best CBD content and quality.
Fortner said this includes light-proofing seedlings’ enclosure for a set period each morning to effectively extend nighttime hours and induce flowering. Light deprivation also helps researchers determine the best hemp buds for CBD production.