Earlier this month, commissioners in Josephine and Jackson counties declared a state of emergency under a new Oregon law to stop state regulators from issuing new licenses to grow hemp in their counties. State lawmakers passed House Bill 3000 last summer to tighten testing regulations on the hemp industry and boost enforcement activity against marijuana being grown illegally on licensed hemp farms.
The heightened scrutiny of their industry has made some legitimate hemp farmers concerned about the future of hemp in Oregon.
“There’s a pretty deep chill in the market right now,” said Mason Walker, the CEO and co-owner of East Fork Cultivars, which grows nine acres of hemp and one acre of marijuana in Josephine County.
“We shrunk from about 60,000 acres in Oregon planted in 2019 to about 7,000 last year, so it’s been a pretty precipitous fall,” he added.
The glut of production has also had a negative effect on the price farmers can demand for hemp on the agricultural commodities market, according to Walker.
Paul Murdoch, a hemp farmer and the CEO of Horn Creek Hemp, a 17-acre hemp farm in Jackson County, has also witnessed the effects of a Gold Rush-like mentality take hold in Southern Oregon among novice growers.
“There were countless farms coming in, amazingly enough, without any agricultural experience,” Murdoch said. “They were overly optimistic, thinking they would grow 50 or 100 or 500 acres,” he added. “Those folks had a hard reality check.”
Although hemp can be used for an array of commercial applications, including textiles, food products and biofuels, it is primarily being grown in Oregon to produce CBD extract.
CBD is a compound extracted from hemp flowers that is being added to topical creams, beverages and other products marketed to consumers despite a lack of approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
Regulatory uncertainty at both the state and federal level concerns entrepreneurs like Walker and Murdoch who are keen to expand into a growing domestic market for hemp that was worth more than $820 million last year.
“Uncertainty is really difficult for businesses and we have a lot of uncertainty in this market still, even though we’re five years into the federally legal market for hemp,” Walker said.
To hear more from Think Out Loud’s conversation with Mason Walker and Paul Murdoch, click the “play” button at the top of the page.