hemp plants in a test plot

Jennifer Miller, superintendent of the MU Hundley-Whaley Research Center, inspects some hemp plants in a test plot. The research farm was able to start growing hemp for research purposes this year. 

ALBANY, Mo. — On a sunny day in late July, Jennifer Miller was driving around the University of Missouri’s Hundley-Whaley Research Center at Albany, looking at crops. Miller, the center’s superintendent, says the center has several fields studying the area’s common cash crops, but it also looks at other options like pumpkins, honey bees, sweet corn, popcorn and other crops.

“We’re going to keep going with corn, beans, wheat, but also look at other stuff for people who have five acres,” she says.

Hundley-Whaley also has a new crop this summer. Small hemp plants are growing in two fields on the research farm.

Following farm bill language opening the door for hemp growth, the state of Missouri passed legislation to allow commercial growth of the crop starting in 2020. But this spring, the state legislature passed an additional measure that allows for growth of the crop in 2019 for research purposes.

Hemp was widely grown in Missouri before the Civil War and during World War II, but Miller says the crop feels like a brand new thing after decades of not being grown.

“It’s new for our generation,” she says.

By the time Gov. Mike Parson signed the bill into law, it was later than the normal time for planting hemp, so this year’s research crop is behind what it would normally be, Miller says. But she is grateful for the opportunity to grow the crop this year to start learning more about it as soon as possible.

“With the research center, we’re at the forefront of that,” she says.

The hemp at Albany was planted the first week of July.

“We’re just glad we were able to plant some,” Miller says.

Hemp can be used for a wide variety of products, including CBD oil, plastic and fiber. Miller says it can even be used as an ingredient in concrete, called “hempcrete.”

She says there are four hemp varieties, and the variety being grown at Hundley-Whaley is industrial hemp, used for fiber production. This fiber can be used for a variety of products, including clothing and rope.

Miller says the Hundley-Whaley center has security cameras on the hemp fields, although the plant differs from the marijuana used as a medicinal or recreational drug. That has THC levels of 18 to 30%. THC is the primary psychoactive part of marijuana. The hemp grown for industrial use by law has no more than 0.3% THC concentration, Miller says.

Researchers at Hundley-Whaley are looking at growing hemp with two different tillages, four varieties and three different spacings, as well as using treated and untreated seed to learn more about what works best.

The research farm continues its work with corn and soybeans, testing seed treatments and soybean cyst nematode resistance, conducting hybrid and variety trials and seeing how crops respond to drainage systems installed under fields. It takes planning to decide what gets planted where.

“It’s very much like somebody’s farm,” she says.

Hundley-Whaley will host a “twilight tour” field day from 5-8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27. A variety of speakers will talk about dealing with this year’s weather, pest control and the new options with growing hemp, among other topics.

Miller says the goal of the research center is to provide farmers with more information to help them be as successful as possible.

“I love doing the research, seeing the results, and having the new things like hemp come out,” she says. “I like staying on top of the research, giving farmers the information they need. We are here for the farmer.”

Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.