Hemp: Old crop for a new age

August 2016 Posted in People
Hemp farmers Rochelle and Peter Koch are about to harvest their first crop.

Hemp farmers Rochelle and Peter Koch are about to harvest their first crop.

By Melissa Wagoner

From the road, it looks like just another crop. Take a step into the field and you know what it is, or rather, what it’s a close kin to.

It smells like marijuana but it’s not.

It’s hemp.

Peter and Rochelle Koch, both 55, recently planted 21 acres of hemp on their farm off the South Abiqua.

“It’s going to save the world,” Peter said enthusiastically of his new crop. “Anything you can make with plastic, you can make with hemp.”

Peter said there about 40 permits for farmers to grow hemp in Oregon, including two other growers in Silverton.

With 20 years of farming organic almonds and pomegranates in California under their belts, the Kochs moved to Silverton in July 2014 looking to grow something new. They left California due to the continuing water crisis.

Both Peter and Rochelle said it’s been exciting and fun to learn about the new crop, adding it’s been a big learning process. They also grow wheat.

“The more I get to know the plant, the more intrigued I am,” Peter said.

Marijuana and hemp are different subspecies of the cannabis plant that over the thousands of years the plant has been cultivated, have developed different traits. These traits have been isolated and bred separately making two distinct species each with its own unique properties.

The marijuana plant has been grown for its high Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, the psychoactive compound, paying special attention to the flowering parts of the plant.

The hemp plant, however, is grown for industrial use and is generally allowed to grow taller and leggier with the field consisting mostly of males without flowering capabilities. Most importantly, it lacks the THC of its cousin.

Instead hemp has a chemical called Cannabidiol (CBD) which can be used medicinally to treat a host of illnesses from Alzheimer’s to cancer. It’s grow cycle is about 120 days.

The Kochs have divided their acreage. The 14-acre portion for fiber is growing wild and almost entirely unirrigated with a mixture of tall and short plants, due to the different places the seeds originate from. Some of the difficulties the Kochs have faced in getting their new crop started was obtaining seeds and farming advice because although hemp was once a staple crop in the United States it has been illegal since 1952, Rochelle said.

“The Constitution was written on hemp paper,” Peter said. “The flag was made out of hemp.”

Now those old farming traditions have been virtually lost and the Kochs and other new hemp farmers in Bend and Monmouth must look to other countries for farming advice.

“We’re reading stuff that’s coming from Canada and Slovakia,” Rochelle said.

Keeping up with ever-changing growing regulations also has been a challenge. Later in the growing season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will choose two cross sections of 30 samples in the Koch’s field to test for THC.

“They’re fine tuning the rules all the time,” Rochelle said. “The THC has to be 0.3 and below.”

Next to the field of fiber plants the Kochs have seven irrigated acres of squat green plants destined for CBD oil use. These are the plants they are most excited about.

“They’re using CBDs for medicinal uses,” Rochelle said. “One particular strain called Charlotte’s Web has helped with epilepsy.”

The Kochs have used the oil at home for backaches after a hard day of farming and have been amazed by the affects.

“My mother, who is 87, has arthritis,” Peter said. She found CBD cream worked well.

“She said it worked quicker than Tylenol and lasted longer,” Peter said.

Although their first year as hemp farmers has been a little rocky, the Kochs are excited about harvest.

“It’s the wave of the future,” Rochelle said.

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