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Our Opinion: Cultivating a hemp niche

September 23, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

A popular marketing adage is "Commit to a niche: Stop trying to be everything to everyone."

Lincoln University is doing an exceptional job of following that advice; the latest example is its research in hemp production.

Missouri is the second largest producer of industrial hemp, second only to Kentucky, which is considered the industry pioneer. Missouri producers planted about 1,250 acres of hemp last year.

Historically, misconceptions about hemp has given the crop a bad name, causing it to be confused or equated with marijuana. Both plants are cannabis sativa, but hemp is grown for CBD, grain or fiber production, and marijuana is bred for THC production.

Research of hemp as an industrial product and a fiber and oil product is thriving at this time, as farmers and processing facilities are looking to expand operations. And Lincoln's Hemp Institute, a national leader in industrial hemp research, is leading the way.

The institute was formed about three years ago, putting Missouri at the cutting edge of industry development. It operates out of Lincoln University Cooperative Extension and Research, part of the university's 1890 land grant designation to strengthen the study and promotion of food and agricultural sciences to farmers.

Babu Valliyodan, director of Lincoln's Hemp Institute, says current research is focused on the types of hemp that grow best in Missouri and in different conditions, as well as developing crop management practices and standard operating procedures for farmers.

To perform its hemp research and outreach, Lincoln has maximized use of state and federal funding to accentuate the partnership it has with individual farmers, other state universities, hemp processing facilities and government agencies, such as the Missouri Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

One example of that partnership is work being done by LU and University of Missouri researchers, who have identified hemp growth patterns from Sikeston to Jefferson City to Novelty, Missouri, where hemp is growing on a farm where the two universities are collaborating.

Through that collaboration, researchers have identified optimal planting dates, depths and soil moisture, which are some of the most important factors for successful yields.

LU President John Moseley said the state's increase in land grant funding this year will allow the hemp institute to further its work, "with hopes that it provides a great return for the state and our agriculture folks."

Throughout the last legislative session, Moseley said Lincoln's message to lawmakers was that it serves a distinct agricultural mission. This hemp work seems to really exemplify that mindset, and it's put Missouri at the forefront of a growing market.

These are the kind of results we should probably expect from state investments in research but don't often see. It's direct help for farmers and helps move the state into the future.

Just as cultivating a successful hemp crop is achieved by evaluating growing conditions, and then seeding and cultivating the plant, so Lincoln has done with its hemp institute. Congratulations to Lincoln and the state for seeing the opportunity to meet a unique need and aggressively pursuing it.

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