Local farmers hope hemp is next cash crop

Workers harvest hemp at a farm in Boring, Oregon. (KATU Photo)

Along a quiet country road in Boring is a sign warning people that the cannabis plant they're seeking isn't worth the headache.

"From people driving by and thinking, Oh great, I'm going to go sample this myself," said Barry Cook. "I've lost 500 to 600 plants."

Cook runs Boring Hemp Company, which may sound redundant since there's less buzz surrounding hemp. It's a type of cannabis that doesn't have any of the psychoactive properties typical marijuana users seek.

It is high in CBD, a cannabidiol, which cannabis experts say offers health benefits.

"We are the safer bet," Cook said. "We're the compliant, agricultural commodity for goodness sake. "

Cook began running the Boring Hemp Company after his sons suggested he begin growing hemp on some of his land.

"You're going to go, 'Holy cow,'" Cook said. "It's got the potential to be Oregon's new cash crop."

Cook was attracted to hemp by a variety of factors. The permitting process to grow hemp is less extensive and less intensive than growing typical marijuana. There are also no limitations on how much he can grow.

Hemp farmers say they're seeing a boom statewide, with production up more than 300 percent in the past year.

"Do we have the perfect recipe? No, but we've got a pretty good one," Cook said.

Cook says his crop yielded more material than he had forecast, but other farmers had similar outputs and that led to a sharp drop in the price.

"Lucrative, yes," Cook said. "But not $350 to $550-a-pound price that we heard going in to this," Cook said.

Just a mile over, Adam Kurtz is trying to harvest his thousands of hemp plants before the fall rains arrive.

"We are hemp pioneers. We are working hard to lead the way, to bring agricultural practices and also support the small, family farm," he said.

Kurtz moved to Oregon a few years ago after spending the majority of his life as a commercial flower farmer in upstate New York.

Now he works to recruit other farmers to use a piece of their land to grow hemp.

"Oregon is prime to expand," Kurtz said. "We have a tremendous amount of land in the valley and eastern Oregon."

Kurtz says his hemp is primarily used to be processed into CBD oils.

He hopes to get more farmers on board so that Oregon can be the top hemp producing state in the country.

Once production gets high enough, Kurtz sees near limitless potential for Oregon hemp farmers. Hemp has fibers that can be used for a variety of products, including rope and paper, and Kurtz anticipates that soon, industries will seek out Oregon hemp to make those products.

"Oregon grown, Oregon manufactured, we want this to be kind of like Idaho potatoes," Kurtz said.

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