PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will grant Oregon State University’s (OSU) Global Hemp Innovation Center $10 million to study sustainable hemp production.

The five-year exploration is financed as part of $146 million in grants issued by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Sustainable Agricultural Systems for agricultural and climate-related research.

“Hemp is already becoming a cash crop in Oregon, and its many different uses—from hemp hearts on a salad to fiber for a T-shirt to therapeutic CBD oil—create a lot of potential for farmers across the state,” said Senator Jeff Merkley.

Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden helped drive decriminalization of hemp by gaining bipartisan support to pass the 2018 farm bill, formally recognizing hemp as a U.S. agricultural product.

Oregon State University Global Hemp Innovation Center (Courtesy: Oregon State University)

“As I continue to push USDA to develop a fair and reasonable regulatory framework for the hemp industry, additional research is vital to inform both growers and regulators,” stated Merkley. “I’m pleased that this award will support OSU’s trailblazing hemp research.”

Since decriminalization, hemp has become one of state’s fastest growing cash crop, with some lawmakers estimating hemp production could lead to over $1 billion in Oregon sales within the near future.

The highly diverse plant can be used to create a variety of hemp-based products including rope, textiles, insulation, biofuel, paper products and more, making the crop a strong candidate for research and production expansion.

Hemp-based products (Courtesy: Oregon State University)

Hemp’s non-water intensive properties contribute to the crop’s appeal for Oregon farmers, who continue to battle devastating effects of ongoing droughts.

“The Global Hemp Innovation Center with its many partners is fortunate to receive this grant that will allow us to work closely with farmers, businesses, manufacturers, and rural community and American Indian tribal leaders to determine what kinds of hemp should be grown and where processing facilities located to help expand opportunities for the hemp industry in Oregon and the rest of the West,” said Jeffrey Steiner, the OSU Associate Director of the Global Hemp Innovation Center.

According to the project proposal, OSU plans to investigate how to optimally weave sustainable hemp production into existing market systems across the four-state regional economy of Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and California.

Oregon State University Global Hemp Innovation Center Researchers (Courtesy: Oregon State University)

Steiner added, “working together, we will be able to build a sound scientific and business foundation for producing healthful food and personal care products, high-performance textiles, and biobased materials.”

A OSU news release states scientist will focus on hemp’s potential to advance economic development in socially underserved communities.

“The up-front involvement of tribal communities along with other rural communities in this work is critical to its success,” explained Steiner. “The potential economic opportunities this new commodity may have presents tremendous potential for rural communities and our project has set out to ensure those opportunities are equally available and relevant to all kinds of farmers.”

Oregon State University Global Hemp Innovation Center (Courtesy: Oregon State University)

OSU has partnered with several local Native American tribes in their program study, including the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs in Oregon.

“The Warm Springs Tribe has interest in exploring and expanding our agricultural opportunities in hemp production and this is one avenue to achieve this,” said Warm Springs cannabis project coordinator Laurie Danzuka in an OSU news release. “This collaboration will allow us to identify potential sustainable uses for hemp, utilize best farming practices and provide learning opportunities to the membership.

Additional partners supporting OSU’s Global Hemp Innovation Center scientists include researchers from OSU’s colleges of Business, Engineering and Pharmacy, and the Extension Service, the University of California, Davis; Washington State University; University of Nevada, Reno Extension; USDA, Agricultural Research Service; United States Department of Transportation, Volpe National Transportation Systems Research Center, the Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program; 7 Generations, a Native American-owned firm that specializes in Indian Country business development; USDA, National Agricultural Library; and the USDA, Western Rural Development Center.