Friday, April 8, 2016
UNK panel: Nebraska could profit from hemp production for agribusiness, medicine
By Josh Moody
KEARNEY — From ropes and sails to Cheech and Chong, the history of the cannabis plant is long and varied.
“We’re not talking about something new here, we’re talking about something humans have used for at least 10,000 years,” University of Nebraska at economics professor Allan Jenkins told the Hub.
But it’s the psychoactive effects of the plant — tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC — that has hampered hemp production, according to panelists who spoke at UNK’s Morality of Capitalism Symposium.
Hemp, which contains minuscule amounts of THC, can be used to make paper, clothing, food, medicine and other products.
Academics, activists and ag producers gathered Wednesday at the University of Nebraska at Kearney to learn about the potential for hemp production in Nebraska.
The title of the panel discussion was “Hemp: That Ditch Weed You’ve Been Mowing Might Be Worth $1 Million.”
Shane Davis, a hemp producer in Boulder, Colo., discussed the history of hemp and the logistics of production.
Hemp activist Deb Palm-Egle, who owns a farm in western Nebraska, spoke about the potential for hemp as a rotational crop.
Allison Jenkins, a Denver-based veterinarian, explained how she is using hemp to treat animals.
Shadi Ramsey, a hemp nutritionist in Denver and culinary anthropologist, discussed the development of hemp food products using the seeds, leaves and oil of the plant.
Following the panel at 11:15 a.m. was an informal 2 p.m. forum that saw the panelists split into various parts of the Nebraskan Student Union Ponderosa Room for discussion.
Students and farmers gathered around Davis to quiz him on the production of hemp.
“We’re growing money,” Davis told them as he lectured about the market potential of the crop.
Jon Hansen, an organic farmer from Marquette, said that he saw the potential for hemp as limitless. Currently, he grows popcorn, soybeans, winter wheat and oats.
“It’s a miraculous plant that we’ve kind of lost track of over the last 80 years,” Hansen said.
He added that hemp had been unfairly maligned as an ag product because of the common association with marijuana.
Allison Jenkins told the Hub that she primarily uses hemp to treat pets, and noted that due to its anti-inflammatory properties it was good for animals suffering from arthritis.
She added that there is some potential for use in agribusiness. That potential includes feed and supplementation because of the high protein content in hemp.
Ramsey shared details about the development of hemp food products.
“It’s an amazing time to be involved in hemp. It’s an amazing time to be eating hemp,” she said.
Ramsey encouraged students to seek out and try hemp foods, including hemp hearts, which are high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
“What I enjoyed about Shadi and the way she talked about the business is the focus on social entrepreneurship. As a business, they want to earn revenue and grow. However, they understand the benefits of hemp and want to educate people about how they can use hemp in multiple different settings to improve there own lives and the lives of others,” said Abbey Rhodes a senior business administration major.
Palm-Egle, who wants to grow hemp as a rotational crop on her farm, discussed the different properties between hemp and marijuana containing THC.
Though Palm-Egle wants to grow hemp, she also sees the need for medical marijuana, having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis four decades ago.
Although the panel wrapped up about 3 p.m., the discussions didn’t. Students and farmers stayed behind to ask questions of the panelists one-by-one.
UNK’s Allan Jenkins said that he was pleased with the conversations about hemp and was happy with the turnout for the event.
“We’re in the education business, and I hope that every person in this room learned something today,” he said.
Jenkins noted that hemp has roots in American history — it once was grown by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson — and said that the economic tide is turning in favor of the plant.
“It’ll be economics that tip the scale, and it always is,” he said.
Jenkins added that with the passage of LB1001 in 2014, which allows for the growth and cultivation of hemp by a university, UNK is getting in on the ground floor.
He said UNK plans to grow hemp on a small scale in the university greenhouse for research purposes.
For now, hemp in Nebraska remains both an unknown commodity and an untapped market.
“We don’t really know what we have. We don’t know the genetics of ditchweed,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said that he is currently collaborating with other sources to create an educational book about hemp. He hopes to give a copy to each member of the Nebraska Unicameral before the next legislative session.