CHAMPAIGN – Looking for a new career path? Think about hemp.
The University of Illinois sees a bright future in the cultivation of hemp.
Dr DK Lee will teach a 400 level online course on growing hemp for students, farmers and anyone else who wants to learn more about growing.
“There are opportunities for small farmers, small indoor growers, and large growers,” Lee said. “There is so much misinformation. This course is designed to teach students the biology of cannabis for good crop management practices.
After being banned by the federal government in 1970, industrial production of hemp in Illinois was legal again in 2018 when the legislature approved it. For several years now, the US Department of Agriculture has encouraged the cultivation of industrial hemp, Lee said.
Hemp is used in hundreds of different products – from textiles and building materials to animal feed and cannabidiol oil-based skin care lotions.
Hemp is used to strengthen concrete and other building materials. Textile manufacturers use it to produce durable fabrics. It is used to make paper. The seed has a high concentration of protein and oil, which makes it very good for animal feed.
“I see great opportunities if Illinois approves hemp seeds for animal feed,” Lee said.
He said he believed more and more Illinois farmers would use hemp as a crop that they would alternate with corn and soybeans.
Another promising use for hemp is in the manufacture of biodegradable plastic. Plastic made from petroleum does not break down when thrown away. The alternative is natural plastic or bioplastic.
Unfortunately, bioplastic does not have the strength of petroleum-based plastic. Reinforcing the bioplastic with hemp can give the bioplastic the durability it lacks.
“Hemp fiber is very strong. We can strengthen the bioplastic with hemp fiber and that would be very beneficial to human society, ”said Lee.
When farmers ask him today if they should start planting hemp fields, Lee says he’s hesitant. There are a number of considerations. Farmers can only grow hemp plants with very low levels (0.3 percent) of THC.
THC is the chemical that gives users the “high” that recreational marijuana users crave. If an Illinois farmer’s crop exceeds the government’s very low 0.3% THC limit, the entire crop will have to be destroyed.
Another barrier for Illinois farmers considering growing hemp is the lack of processing facilities, Lee said.
“Some other states are already processing fiber. Other states have approved the use of hemp grain as animal feed, ”he said. “Growing hemp for animal feed is not much different from current agricultural practice. We can plant the hemp and use a combine for the seed. It’s an easy process.
For indoor operations, there are plenty of job opportunities, Lee says. However, there is also a steep learning curve. Growing hemp to produce CBD oil is nowhere near as easy as buying petunia plants to get flowers, Lee said.
“It’s very complicated, especially if you are growing indoors,” he said.
People can currently register for Lee’s online course: Crop Sciences 480: Cannabis Classification and Management Crop Sciences. The course will provide basic information on plant biology, seed selection, fertilization, nutrition, humidity control and the delicate process of light management for indoor growing. The cost for the three credit class is $ 1,200.
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