Sea of medicinal hemp plants flowering outside Ashland
Posted October 11
MEDFORD, Ore. — Motorists do double-takes as they gawk at fields of cannabis plants flowering just outside Ashland.
But what they're looking at are 40,000 medicinal hemp plants covering 30 sloping acres at the foothills of Grizzly Peak on East Nevada Street.
"There's a lot of people wondering what's going on," said Chris Bourne, one of several partners in this unusual cannabis operation. "People have concerns, people have fears and people are stoked that we're doing it."
Instead of growing the more common hemp plants for their fiber, Bourne grows only female hemp plants that barely have any trace of the active ingredient that makes people high.
The cannabis plants look exactly the same as their more intoxicating cousins and are even pushing out purple flowers as they get ready for harvest. They also have a similar odor that annoys some and makes others beam with pleasure.
But smokers would be disappointed at the lack of a buzz.
Typical marijuana plants have tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, that produces the high. Bourne's plants are being grown for the cannabidiol, or CBD, that many believe is good for pain relief, seizures, Parkinson's disease and other ailments. In Oregon, hemp plants are limited to a maximum 0.3 percent THC.
"These plants have strong anti-inflammatory properties," Bourne said.
Bourne said his fields have been tested and found in compliance by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, which licenses hemp operations.
"We can sell the CBDs nationwide," he said. "There's ways to monetize it nationally."
He said the oils are used by research groups and clinical trials to determine how effective they are at managing ailments.
Ron Pence, operations manager at the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said he could confirm that Permaag LLC, the name of the company that runs the hemp farm, has an active license.
Pence said female hemp operations are becoming more common statewide, and 80 to 90 percent of growers have told him they are looking to extract CBDs.
"These are big, bushy plants with lots and lots of flower," he said. "It looks like marijuana, smells like marijuana."
Pence said most hemp farms are interested in growing organic crops.
He said the largest operation he knows of in the state is 75 acres near Salem, but he said the Ashland farm is a pretty good size as well.
Most passersby on the east side of Ashland are content to observe the hemp farm from their vehicles. But the sight of all those plants tempted someone to steal several over the weekend, leaving remnants of some plants lying on the ground. Bourne reported the theft to law enforcement.
"Those plants were going to go to those with Parkinson's disease and other patients," Bourne said. He said additional security steps are being taken to protect the crop.
Because he is growing hemp, his operation falls under a different set of state rules than either recreational or medical marijuana. The largest recreational pot operation can cover only slightly less than an acre, according to Oregon law.
Other marijuana operations bring in soil for growing. Bourne's hemp plants required a tilling, planting and watering, but no amendments were added to the native clay soil.
The hemp went in the ground late in the season when temperatures hit 100 in July, which resulted in shorter plants, varying from 2 to 4 feet.
Initially, Bourne had 75,000 plants in the ground, but 35,000 of them were males and were pulled out.
"It was a lot of work," he said. "We have 34 miles of rows of plants."
He's also growing without using pesticides or any sprays to combat insects. Bourne said he expects to see more insects next year, but he plans to take steps growing other plants that deter bugs to create biodiversity.
During the winter months, Bourne said he will grow a cover crop to fix the nitrogen in the soil.
When the hemp is harvested and dried in a couple of weeks, the CBD oils will be extracted and processed, Bourne said.
By next year, Bourne and his partners hope to have 500 to 1,000 acres of hemp growing in Southern Oregon, though he's not ready to disclose the location.