Hemp Seed Standards

FILE - In this April 19, 2018, file photo, a man displays hemp seeds being prepared for sale to industrial hemp farmers at his facility in Monmouth, Ore. A global hemp research lab announced Thursday, June 13, 2019, in Oregon, is part of a larger movement to bring the standardization to hemp that traditional crops like corn and cotton enjoy. (AP Photos/Gillian Flaccus, File)

AURORA, Ore. — A unit of wheat is called a bushel, and a standard weight of potatoes is called a century. But hemp as a fully legal U.S. agricultural commodity is so new that a unit of hemp seed doesn’t yet have a universal name or an agreed-upon quantity.

That’s one example of the startling lack of uniformity — and accountability — in an industry that’s sprung up almost overnight since the U.S. late last year removed hemp from the controlled substances list.

A global hemp research lab announced Thursday in Oregon, coupled with a nascent national review board for hemp varieties and a handful of seed certification programs nationwide, are the first stabs at addressing those concerns — and at creating accountability by standardizing U.S. hemp for a global market.

“If you look at a lot of financial markets, they’re all saying, ‘People are investing in this, and we have no idea what to divide it by,” said Jay Noller, head of Oregon State University’s new Global Hemp Innovation Center. “We have hemp fiber. What is it? What’s the standard length?”

Oregon State’s research hub will be the United States’ largest and will offer a certification for hemp seed that guarantees farmers the seed they’re buying is legitimate and legal. That’s a critical need when individual hemp seeds are currently selling for between $1.20 and $1.40 per seed — and an acre of crop takes up to 2,000 seeds, Noller said.

Licensed hemp acreage in Oregon, which has an ideal climate for growing the crop, has increased six-fold since last year, earning Oregon the No. 3 spot for hemp cultivation after Montana and Colorado, according to Vote Hemp, which advocates for and tracks the industry in the U.S.

Four other states — North Dakota, Colorado, Tennessee and North Carolina — also have hemp seed certification programs. Other U.S. universities, such as Cornell in Ithaca, New York, have hemp research programs, but Oregon State’s will be the largest, built on years of hemp research done in test fields in China, Bosnia and Serbia and now at 10 research stations sprinkled across the state. On Thursday, Oregon State researchers began to sow their third crop in a field in Aurora.

The new center dovetails with a greater movement to create a national infrastructure around hemp as the market explodes. Globally, the supply of hemp is less than 10% of the demand, and that’s driving states like Oregon to rush to stake a claim in the international marketplace, Noller said.

The U.S. National Review Board for Hemp Varieties will start taking applications in the fall from growers who want to claim credit for specific genetic varieties of hemp. Once growers have secured a unique designation from the board, they can apply for a plant patent with the U.S. government so no other grower can produce that type of hemp.

A meeting in Harbin, China, in early July will bring together members of the global hemp industry to start to hash out critical details such as what to call a unit of hemp seed or the standard length of hemp fiber, Noller said. Other countries, such as China, have been growing hemp for years, but the industry lacks a universal standard countries can apply to trade, he said.

“This is the first time in U.S. history where we have a new crop that’s suddenly gone from prohibited to no longer prohibited,” Noller said. “We have never had something like this.”

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