Western Laboratories plans to test hop and hemp samples this summer at its new facility in Ontario, Ore.
Owner and soil scientist John Taberna said the move reflects continued growth of the local hop industry and the need for convenient, accurate hemp testing in southeastern Oregon.
Western’s main laboratory is in Parma, Idaho. He said the satellite lab will be well-positioned if Idaho eventually legalizes hemp.
Many hop labs are processor-owned, and hemp-testing facilities use various techniques, Taberna said.
Growers and buyers can use the independent lab, which aims to return results in one to two days. Tests are run twice; if one is not nearly identical to the other, the lab runs a free additional test.
One half of the sample is placed in a specialized oven to determine moisture percentage. The other half, kept at the original moisture level, is broken down for subsequent cell-level analysis by a high-performance liquid chromatography machine for alpha and beta acid levels in hops — which influence harvest timing — and cannabinoids in hemp.
Hops and hemp belong to the Cannabaceae family of flowering plants.
Idaho and Oregon last year ranked second and third, respectively, behind Washington in hop production, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service reported.
In hemp, high percentages of cannabidiol, or CBD, and other compounds can increase financial returns. It must be destroyed if tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, content exceeds the 0.3% federal limit.
Western will pursue hemp-testing accreditation.
Taberna said some of Oregon’s 2019 hemp crop exceeded THC limits, and some growers didn’t use ideal harvest methods. Mildew reduced quality on the west side, and an early October freeze in much of the state made many buds unharvestable.
“Despite those problems, we had a record harvest,” said Jay Noller, director of the Global Hemp Innovation Center at Oregon State University. “Tens of millions of pounds of biomass were successfully harvested.”
Registered outdoor hemp acres in Oregon at the end of May dropped 54% from a year ago to 29,604, including an 84% plunge in Malheur County, from 2,832 to 455. Statewide acreage was 29,772 including greenhouse plantings.
Vale, Ore., hemp grower Randy Fletcher planted 3 acres, down from 17 last year. That partly reflects last year’s market saturation and corresponding price plunge. Prices are expected to rebound this year.
He expects bigger, heavier plants and thus a larger overall flower yield in 2020 due to improved soil and more management of individual plants. He has incorporated three cover crops to suppress weeds.
“We built the soil organically in 2019,” Fletcher said. “The benefit comes this year.”
Receiving lab test results last year from a provider out of the area took about a week, he said.
Western will offer weekly monitoring of hops’ alpha and beta acids and hemp cannabinoid levels starting in mid-July. The company around June 1 started testing hop foliage for fertilizer needs, as it has for years, and by July 1 will start analyzing Oregon hemp for nutrient needs.
Taberna said the lab, at 201 SE Second St. in Ontario, also is suited to university trials.
This story was first published June 19.
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