Nebraska researchers have moved a step closer to bring the long-maligned hemp plant out of ditches and into fields — they just need the seeds.
After working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency for more than three months, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Department of Agronomy and Horticulture got a permit last week that will allow it to do hemp research.
But researchers are still waiting for DEA approval to import seeds from the Parkland Industrial Hemp Growers Cooperative based in the Canadian town of Dauphin, Manitoba.
Once the DEA signs off on the paperwork, called a form 357, it likely will take another three weeks or so to get the seeds, said Héctor L. Santiago, assistant dean of the Agronomy Department’s Agricultural Research Division.
Hemp is marijuana’s nonpsychoactive cousin, and it lacks the chemical that gets people high: tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. State and federal rules dictate that seeds used by researchers are certified to produce plants with a THC content lower than 0.03 percent.
UNL Professor Ismail Dweikat hopes to get plants in the ground this year. If seeds don’t arrive before June 15, he most likely will grow them in a greenhouse.
Dweikat said the research will look at a variety of factors farmers will want to know about the potential crop, including the best plant spacing, nitrogen rates, harvesting techniques and whether they can make money growing it.
Seeds also will be saved for use in research next year, Santiago said.
Hemp is one of the oldest known fiber crops in the world, but growing it became prohibited in the United States during the 1930s when it was lumped together legally with marijuana.
A wide variety of hemp products have been gaining popularity in the United States in recent years, ranging from food and clothing to neurological medication and fiber-reinforced polymers. Industry estimates report annual hemp product sales at more than $580 million, according to a 2015 Congressional Research Service report.
As a crop, hemp holds great potential thanks to its rapid growth, low fertilizer requirements and drought tolerance. And its seeds are rich with oil that contains essential dietary fatty acids.