Purdue University has hired its first hemp specialist to educate farmers and processors.
Commercial hemp production is expected to be underway in Indiana by 2020, after lawmakers legalized it in this year’s session. Indiana farmers and state officials are preparing for commercial hemp production, but questions about the plant linger.
The university appointed Marguerite Bolt to be Purdue Extension’s hemp specialist, with the task of educating interested parties. She says her job will help lift some weight off of other researchers at the university.
“It’s vital in that aspect of it’s gonna be one central person that farmers and processors can contact with questions,” says Bolt.
Among other research, she and others will investigate how different fertilizers impact growth and understanding weed competition, since no pesticides have been approved to be used with hemp.
“So hemp was banned for a very long time, so there were no pesticides labeled for use in hemp,” says Bolt. “So to get a crop on a pesticide label, there’s a lot of testing that’s involved both on the chemical companies part as well as on the EPA’s side, so it’s a really long process. So we’re hoping in the coming years that eventually there’ll be the testing that needs to be conducted for pesticide use in hemp, but at this point we can’t use any pesticides.”
Bolt says hemp will provide farmers a chance to diversify their crops, but she says they shouldn’t rely on it to replace staple crops, such as corn and soybeans.
“This is an exciting time for farmers, but you know it’s a new crop so we’re sort of cautioning that there are risks involved with a new crop that hasn’t been researched or grown for such a long time,” she says.
Some of the education she’ll do will include explaining the different variations of hemp grown for fiber and CBD oil and what is needed to produce each.
Bolt just completed her Master’s degree this year at Purdue in entomology, the study of insects.