Fall Research On The Farm
From The Jacksonville Review – October 2022 Issue
Fall comes on slowly, then all at once. We are approaching that transition. One morning I will be heading to the field, only to turn around to find a coat. And that smell. It must be the world responding to colder temperatures, trees preparing to bear fruit and drop leaves. We all recognize it.
On a brisk-ish morning last week, the OSU Research Center hosted around 75 people from academia,
local government, water districts and Jackson County Building Department. Researchers came from OSU’s Global Hemp Innovation Center, UC Davis and Washington State. Other attendees were from building departments, the USDA and state legislators. They toured our farm, one other in Sam’s Valley, and the OSU experimental hemp grow site. Many had never been to a hemp farm— or at least a legal one.
The OSU research station has been a tremendous asset to our farm. They are on the forefront of hemp agriculture research, and we are lucky to have them in our fields regularly. They are currently conducting three studies—Common Cannabis pests, diseases, and common pollen. We are pleased to be involved in all three studies. The research they are doing will be used around the country. Hemp farms have been making it up as they go. Careful research upon which to base decisions is something of a novelty.
Our fields are dense and almost ready for harvest. Each flower is stacking up cannabinoids. Hemp and all other cannabis plants are dioecious. This means there are males and females.
We only want female plants, of course because they work harder and are more pleasant. Truthfully, females produce the cannabinoid-rich flower. Males produce pollen, and we do not want pollen near our crop. Pollinated flowers stop producing cannabinoid content to focus on seeds.
Most hemp seed is feminized, which means 99.97% will be female. But sneaky males appear in the field, so we scout for them every day. Males and females look alike until August, when they begin to flower. Just like people, individual plants mature at different times. We’ve spotted them as early as late July, though most show up during August. Males appear
as a subtly different flower structure one day, then they flip seemingly overnight. Daily walks are essential, and they are a bit meditative. It forces one to walk slowly and methodically check each plant. It’s become our evening Zen walk.
Some plants are undecided. Monoecious, or hermaphrodite plants have both male and female flowers. These appear more frequently in newercultivars, perhaps because they aren’t as stable genetically. Stress makes this more likely. Water deprivation, heat, disease, or poor root systems add stress. One OSU researcher explained a theory in a way I could understand: A plant’s drive is to reproduce. Stress late in the season can prompt an unpollinated plant to react as though it may die without reproducing. The response is to convert a stem or two to male, to self-pollinate and thus extend its genetic line.
Incidental pollination has been a particular problem this year. Last year’s illegal grows were abandoned. Most had volunteer or feral plants this year,half of which are male. I recently walked through an abandoned adjacent field. I stopped counting the males I cut down after 600. This will become a problem in our valley, so the OR Department of Agriculture is looking into rules which will require landowners to remove any volunteer plants on a current or abandoned grow site.
In other news, we’ve been asked to travel to Thailand this fall to assist with the launch of a new farm there. Thailand recently legalized both hemp and marijuana. CBD products in Thailand can only be produced from material grown in-country so they are in a similar green rush as we were several years ago. Thai licenses are restricted somewhat, limiting entrants. In addition, laws are clearer about allowing CBD in food and edible products.
This subtle difference has had a huge impact on how the industry is developing. In the US, grey areas in regulations discouraged big players like Coca-Cola and Frito-Lay from participating. They are waiting until the USDA and FDA make clear rulings. Sidelining these corporations meant that small operations would define and develop the industry. That has been both good and bad. Most important, it has been different from typical product development. It’s been rough at times, but we are grateful for the opportunity.
Thailand is different. Many licenses were obtained by the larger consumer product, distribution and retail entities. They obviously know how to farm quite well. But they don’t have a cannabis background. Believe it or not, Oregon, particularly Southern Oregon, is the elder in the field. It will be fun to help farms bypass the mistakes many of us made.
This hemp venture has been a wild and entertaining ride. Market instability keeps us guessing every day. The Hemp Commission work we’ve been doing is facing a steep decline of farms. It is difficult to make plans when all the pieces are moving simultaneously. We’ve been operating as the temporaryCommission since April. The permanent Commission will be appointed this month. They will have their work cut out for them.
One last development I need to address is how our presence in Jacksonville is changing. Gary West Meats has been operating from Jacksonville since 1966. We are coming up on the end of that era. Gary and Dee West created a world- famous business, focused primarily on delicious smoked steak strips. They were sold around the globe, in Disneyland, Cabela’s, and many other locations.
In 2003, they turned it over to their daughter, Whitney, and to me. We kept the smokers running until Covid dealt a final and fatal blow. Beef prices doubled.
Worse was the unstable supply chain for beef. We could not guarantee to our seasonal customers that we would deliver their holiday gifts as requested and on time. So, we made some hard decisions. We ceased production entirely and transitioned to a bottle shop and CBD apothecary. We recently put our building up for sale. When that sale happens, we will maintain a presence in Jacksonville for our farm products.