Hemp needs wide range of research, say U.S. stakeholders

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While enthusiasm is high among U.S. hemp producers, the industry suffers critical bottlenecks and wide gaps in knowledge that require broad-based research initiatives, according to a government-funded survey of 1,100 hemp stakeholders across 23 states

The survey, financed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental and Alternative Crops Competitive (SACC) grants program, sought to identify hemp research and education priorities for the next several years. Results are analyzed in an 8-page paper by Shelby Ellison, assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Horticulture.

Need for investment

“Responses suggest the strong need for investment in this crop to make it economically viable for stakeholders,” the report concludes, noting “Survey findings can be used by funding entities to develop targeted grant programs to help support this re-emerging crop.”

Stakeholders identified research in economics and the marketing of hemp products as a top priority, with 94% of respondents indicating market research on CBD is “very or extremely important.” Other topics for research considered “very or extremely important” by stakeholders included alternative cannabinoids; food products; hempseed oil; fiber products; hemp biofuels; hemp proteins; and hemp animal feed.

More than 85% of hemp stakeholders who responded to the survey believe additional research is needed to better understand the effects of hemp on human and animal nutrition, suggesting studies should should look at endocannabinoid system interactions and processing, dosing and long-term usage.

Respondents also suggested more research is needed for textiles, THC, construction materials, bioremediation, bioplastics, health benefits, and public opinion.

Other findings

The survey was developed by the planning committee for the inaugural National Hemp Research and Education Conference, which was funded through the same SACC grant. Industry stakeholders provided additional input for the survey questions. Responses, which focused on the 2019 growing season, were solicited during December 2019 and January 2020 and then analyzed by Ellison.

The survey also found:

  • Research is needed in engineering, infrastructure and equipment to boost productivity, especially for harvest and post-harvest stages.
  • Regulatory and policy issues are a major concern, requiring directed research.
  • Stakeholders want breeding and genetics studies that lead to stable and uniform cultivars and regional adaptability, and to improve flower quality and seed characteristics.
  • Research is needed to better understand agronomic practices and production systems for hemp such as disease management.
  • There is a substantial need for better and more accessible education and outreach across producers, processors, regulators, consumers and lawmakers.

“Many key research topics are complex and projects will require collaboration across numerous hemp industry sectors in order to assemble the collective knowledge and experience needed to address the questions and needs of this industry,” the report notes, suggesting that veteran stakeholders from countries long experienced in hemp production can be tapped to fill knowledge gaps.

[See the full report: Hemp priorities: Opinions from U.S. hemp stakeholders]

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