An upcoming symposium will focus on the outlook of the hemp industry, and will bring together government officials, leaders in the industry and other corporate entities aiming to find new, sustainable uses for the versatile plant. On Feb. 9 and 10, Oregon State University will host the National Hemp Symposium, the first-ever event of its kind, according to OSU.
Hosting the event will be staffers from OSU's Global Hemp Innovation Center and the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, a unit of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
"This symposium will offer a deep dive into some of these most pressing challenges and opportunities facing the hemp industry as the future is truly limited only by our imagination," wrote Jay Noller, director of the Global Hemp Innovation Center in a press release. "We seek a 2050 vision of the widespread incorporation of hemp across the U.S. economy."
Speakers for the online event will include Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, Ross McFarlane of the Sierra Club, Patrick Atagi of the National Industrial Hemp Council, Deanie Elsner of Charlotte's Web and Don Davidson of 3M, among others. Speakers and panelists will discuss opportunities for hemp in various industries, including transportation, energy, construction and more. A watch-on-demand film festival will be available as part of the event as well.
The explosive growth of Oregon's hemp industry is nothing short of astounding. Oregon has allowed farmers to grow hemp since 2009, but it wasn't until 2015 that the state's agriculture department approved its first hemp-growing license, according to OSU. In 2018, ahead of the federal changes that took hemp off of the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances, 7,808 acres of hemp were in cultivation in the state. In 2019, following that change at the federal level, the number of acres in cultivation shot up to 46,219 acres, according to OSU, with 20% of the state's overall production acres registered for growing hemp. While those "seas of green" one might encounter in rural parts of the state—including right here in Deschutes County—might appear to be the psychotropic, THC-containing versions, they're actually hemp, used for a variety of agricultural, medical and industrial purposes.
Researchers see promise in hemp as a sustainable material that could support environmental resource-reduction goals. According to a description on the Symposium's website, sustainable hemp products could be researched and developed to "displace unsustainable fossil fuel and water-intensive source materials currently in use."