Whether you call them Road Crop Signs or Crop ID signs, the white and green signs posted along roads and highways across Oregon are part of Oregon Aglink’s oldest continual outreach and education efforts.
One of the most popular sign varieties in recent years? Industrial Hemp.
As many farms seek to diversify with hemp, we reached out to a recent sign customer to learn more about how they are embracing the crop.
South of Oregon City, Craig Collins and his son Sean have expanded on past experience with research and crop consulting to start a new venture: 100% Oreganic Grown.
The label covers a variety of services that may expand in years to come. In addition to organic certification for hemp grown around Oregon, the business is growing its own production field of hemp that doubles as a research farm.
Most other hemp producers are dealing with the challenges of growing from seed, a method with some drawbacks of genetic inconsistency and producing male plants that have to be rogued out. Oreganic Grown, on the other hand, works with tissue-culture plants. According to Sean, the tissue-culture plants have some distinct advantages: “it’s genetically identical, guaranteed female, and clean plant material that’s not infested with disease or insects.”
That consistency matters when you consider the research at the property, says Sean, “we’re going to be looking at different kinds of fertilizers and doing efficacy testing on some of the biocontrol products that are out there for insect and disease control.” A consistent product means an easier time isolating the variables during trials. “The difference between two samples will be the fertilizer,” for example, “and not the plant itself.”
“We also are selling in a limited amount the tissue culture varieties that we’ve developed,” says Sean, “Next year we’ll be able to meet a higher demand, but that will go up when we have a larger tissue culture lab.”
So how did fifty years of work with crops more familiar to Oregon expand into an interest in hemp three years ago? It’s all a matter of keeping a finger on the pulse of an industry.
The experience with research had given them the opportunity to work with different companies that create products for controlling insects and diseases. The next step was figuring out where those products might need to be applied next. In Craig’s words: “The writing was on the wall that hemp was going to become a major crop in the US agricultural industry. We knew a lot of our clients were going to want to try those products on hemp.”
The challenges ahead for Oregon’s hemp industry may be the source of opportunity for businesses like Oreganic Grown. Connections made via previous consulting means a chance to explore better mechanization for hemp harvest. The bottleneck with processing presents a similar challenge for farms that have already invested in the crop, and businesses with early investments in processing facilities are ahead of the game as others catch up.
Along with the previously mentioned drawbacks of starting from seed, which tissue-culture could address, Sean and Craig agree that there will be challenges with pest management at some point. “So far it hasn’t been a major problem,” says Sean, “but a lot of growers are planting hemp on the same land several years in a row and that’s where you get diseases and pests building up.” That’s why well-researched pest controls and possibly future residue testing will be valuable services for companies like Oreganic Grown to offer.
Many farmers in Oregon have already welcomed industrial hemp as a way to diversify. With the help of forward-thinking companies, the industry will be prepared to face any of the technical difficulties that come along with innovation.