Industrial hemp

Hemp grows in an Oregon field.

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Oregon State University has received a $1 million donation from a Willamette Valley hemp seed company to study hemp genetics that could unlock new markets for the versatile crop.

OSU launched its Global Hemp Innovation Center in June, combining more than 40 faculty members across 19 academic disciplines to research all aspects of hemp, from cultivation to food and product testing.

The donation from Oregon CBD, a hemp seed research and development company based in Monmouth, Ore., marks the first major private contribution to the center and will be used to study DNA present within different hemp varieties.

Jay Noller, director of the Global Hemp Innovation Center, said the information will provide insights for breeding new hemp varieties that could be used for health and nutrition products or manufacturing textiles and construction materials.

“We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and interest in our work,” Noller said in a statement.

Since it was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp has experienced a boom across Oregon, with the number of state-licensed growers more than tripling from 584 to 1,883 and total acres expanding 473% from 11,754 to roughly 62,000.

Hemp can be used to make a variety of products, though the primary market now is for cannabidiol oil, or CBD, which boasts numerous possible benefits, from pain relief to reducing anxiety.

U.S. hemp sales hit $1.1 billion in 2018, according to a study by New Frontier Data, a market research firm focused on the cannabis industry. Hemp sales are expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2022.

Alan Sams, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at OSU, said the donation from Oregon CBD accelerates the university’s position as a leader in hemp. The Global Hemp Innovation Center bills itself as the largest, most comprehensive hemp research center in the nation.

Kelly Vining, an assistant professor and researcher in OSU’s Department of Horticulture, will lead the center’s hemp genetics research. By understanding the genetic makeup of hemp varieties, growers might be able to better predict levels of hemp oils, such as CBD.

The research could also lead to stronger, higher-yielding and more disease-resistant plants.

“Looking at the most intimate secrets of life in plants is powerful,” Vining said. “With hemp, the prospects are additionally exciting because it not only holds such interesting promise, but it is just a gnarly plant genome. ... We are now able to explore that promise and challenge, while also being among the first to share our findings with the world.”

Oregon CBD is a family-owned business with ties to OSU. Owners Seth and Eric Crawford both have degrees from the university, and Seth Crawford taught in the School of Public Policy for 13 years.

Seth Crawford also contributed in 2015 to some of the Oregon Health Authority’s early cannabis policies.

“There is a tremendous amount of possibility with hemp, and understanding the genetics is key,” Seth Crawford said. “Philosophically, we believe the public land grant university needs to be the epicenter of that research so that all can benefit from the findings.”

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