Purdue researching production of industrial hemp

By Natalie van Hoose - Published November 6, 2015

Purdue University researchers are exploring the agronomic and economic potential of industrial hemp, a crop that has been banned for nearly 80 years.

The 2014 Farm Bill legalized the growth of industrial hemp for research purposes. Commercial hemp cultivation remains illegal.

The researchers planted test plots of industrial hemp at Purdue's Meigs Farm to help provide answers to basic questions of its production, such as the yields growers can expect, optimal soil conditions for hemp, which nutrients to apply, and how to identify and manage pests and diseases. The test plots were the focus of a Purdue Extension field day over the summer.

Janna Beckerman, professor of botany and plant pathology, and Ron Turco, professor of agronomy and assistant dean for agricultural and environmental research at Purdue, co-led an effort to obtain federal and state permits to grow hemp for research, as well as import and export permits from Canada, in anticipation of a future market for U.S. hemp.

Hemp can be grown for its seed or fibers. The seed is a valuable source of oil and a good protein source for animal feed. The plant produces fine fibers suitable for textiles and rougher fibers that can substitute for fiberglass and building materials. The lower part of the plant consists of a tough material that can be used in products such as "hempcrete," a cement mix that is strong, carbon dioxide-absorbent and recyclable.