Oregon's next bumper crop may end up being industrial hemp, the nearly THC-free cousin of marijuana, grown for recreational and medical use (industrial hemp and marijuana are different varieties of the cannabis plant). With the 2019 planting season in full swing, Oregon farmers have registered to grow around 50,000 acres of hemp this year, a huge increase over last year’s 11,754 acres, which could amount to a crop worth at least $2 billion this fall. That is more than double Oregon’s highest value agricultural category in 2017 — greenhouse and nursery.
Hemp is grown in nearly all of Oregon’s 36 counties, with Jackson and Josephine counties in southwest Oregon topping the list.
The primary product resulting from all of this hemp is an extract called cannabidiol or “CBD.” CBD seems to be the current wonder drug of our times — it’s hard to find an ailment that CBD is not lauded to cure and some figures indicate that it is used in more than 30,000 products. The fibers from hemp can also be used, primarily for clothing and as a construction material.
However, getting CBD out of hemp requires higher capacities from processors and it is unclear as to whether Oregon hemp processors can keep up with the demand of this ever-expanding crop. The lack of sufficient processors may ultimately cause a pinch point.
Oregon processors are expanding, but not just in-state. For example, Socati Corp., an Oregon processor that specializes in manufacturing THC-fee hemp extracts, recently purchased the Montana company, Blue Marble Biomaterials, a large-scale manufacturer of specialty compounds for consumer goods with a 22,000-square foot manufacturing facility near the Missoula airport. Socati expects to expand the Blue Marble facility’s capacity to a production capability of 10 tons of hemp per day. Because industrial hemp is not restricted from interstate transport like marijuana, Oregon is viewed as being well-positioned for both hemp production as well as hemp extract manufacturing.
The jury’s still out on whether Oregon processors will be able to manage the volumes produced in-state, but market analysts will have to wait a few months longer to find out. The harvests won’t start until October.