A proposal to raise much-needed research money for Oregon’s fast-growing hemp industry failed to pass muster during the legislative session that just ended, but supporters say it will likely return next year.
The concept of an Oregon Hemp Commission again died in the budget-setting Joint Ways and Means Committee at the end of the 2019 legislative session, which is the same fate that befell a similar proposal two years earlier.
Establishing a formal industry-wide organization would have helped Oregon State University better understand the top difficulties faced by hemp growers, said Jay Noller, the university’s hemp leader.
“It does set things back because that was seen as a means to collectively prioritize the research focus,” as well as provide funding for those projects, he said. “What we’re missing is a tried-and-true model of how the industry can turn the head of the research.”
Oregon already has 23 commodity commissions that collect assessment fees from farmers, ranchers and fishermen to pay for research and promotions, so it’s hardly a novel idea. Hemp production in the state, meanwhile, has surged from about 100 acres to more than 50,000 acres in the past five years.
House Bill 2740, which would have added hemp to that list, did not encounter any opposition and would not have involved spending significant sums of tax dollars.
While the bill was unanimously approved by the House Agriculture Committee in April, it wasn’t assigned to the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Natural Resources until early June — the final month of the legislative session.
At that same time, the subcommittee was debating contentious climate legislation that would eventually lead to a walkout of Republican senators.
“There were a lot of other things taking precedent at the Capitol,” said Courtney Moran, an attorney and president of the Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association.
With the de facto legalization of hemp at the national level under the 2018 Farm Bill, many questions about federal rules remain up in the air.
Lawmakers may have wanted to avoid jumping the gun before more is known about how hemp will be regulated, said Michelle Binker, chief of staff for Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, the bill’s chief sponsor.
“In some small measure, people were reluctant to get ahead of the USDA,” which will decide on testing regulations, as well as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which will regulate hemp products for human consumption, she said.
Wilson also resisted attempts to use HB 2740 as a “political football,” Binker said. “We didn’t allow it to become part of the session negotiations so it died.”
Draft rules from the USDA are expected in August and the FDA’s guidance for hemp products is also expected to be forthcoming, so a bill to create an Oregon Hemp Commission would be better positioned during the 2020 short legislative session, said Moran.
“We’re looking for that additional guidance from the federal government,” she said.
There’s still a lot of basic agronomic information that growers need about hemp, including fertility studies to determine proper nutrition for the crop, said Noller.
Research funded and directed by an Oregon Hemp Commission would also likely focus on pesticide options for insects and diseases, as well as the impacts from inadvertent pollination, Noller said.
Many growers are using drip tape for irrigation but more data is needed on the most effective way to apply water, he said. “We don’t know what the appropriate irrigation rates are.”