ALBANY, Ore. — Jay Noller is stepping down as head of Oregon State University’s Crop and Soil Science Department to concentrate on hemp.

Noller told the Oregon Ryegrass Growers Association’s Annual Meeting Jan. 16 that he  he agreed to take the lead on the College of Agricultural Sciences' hemp research several years back on a part-time basis but found it was taking up more and more of his time.

“I have arrived at the conclusion that I was not serving my faculty as well as I could,” he said in an interview outside the meeting. “My five-year term ends the end of September, and rather than drag the faculty and everybody through a process of renewal and then not continue, I just thought this was a cleaner break.”

Noller took over as head of the department from Russ Karow in October of 2014. He served as associate head of the department from 2008 to 2014.

Noller’s work on hemp has taken him to Serbia the last two years, where he conducted on-farm research primarily because it is at the same latitude as Oregon and to establish international partners. When President Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, it legalized hemp, a variety of cannabis that does not produce the psychoactive component of marijuana.

The crop has experienced dramatic growth in Oregon the last two years and is expected to be worth $1 billion in 2019, Noller said, potentially making it Oregon’s number one commodity.

Hemp is used for multiple purposes, including to produce cannabidiol, or CBD, an extract that is showing up in beverages, health products and topical treatments.

Noller said the crop is particularly well suited to Oregon’s climate and that other states and countries are looking to Oregon to produce hemp seed.

“This plant, the genus cannabis loves to be right at 45 degrees latitude,” Noller said, “and the last I recall, the 45th parallel goes right through the north part of Salem.”

Noller, a soil scientist, said he enjoyed his time as head of the Crop and Soil Science Department. “It has been an amazing growth opportunity, personally and professionally,” he said.

“I feel privileged that I was able to build off of the foundation that Russ Karow set up,” he said. “We have quite a portfolio of online degrees coming out. We are super excited about that. And by the time I finish out, we will have hired about 35 new faculty.

“We have a really optimistic future,” he said. “We have a lot of super energetic, extremely bright scientists who have come in and are going to make for a better Oregon.”

Noller’s last day as department head is expected to be Sept. 30.

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