LOGAN, Utah (ABC4 News) – Right now, Utah is on the fast track in finding the best hemp plant in the nation and poised to become the industry leader in hemp production.
Researchers at Utah State University in Logan received the green light to study the hemp plant to bring the highest concentration of CBD oil with the lowest THC level, the compound that makes you high.
Utah State University is the only school in the state certified to research hemp and it’s largely because of Dr. Brian Bugbee, the nation’s leading plant physiologist.
The incredible knowledge they’re gleaning is being used right now for growers to hopefully help patients and rejuvenate farms.
Ground zero in hemp research in the beehive state and perhaps the country: Utah State University.
Dr. Bruce Bugbee is a scientist in charge.
“We are the agriculture university in Utah and the only one,” said Dr. Bugbee.
The professor of crop physiology at USU has gained such a reputation NASA has funded his research for years on growing food in space.
“My laboratory for decades has specialized in controlled environments to look at crop quality and crop yield.”
Back on earth, he’s been tasked in bringing the best hemp plant to growers.
In order to go from plant life to pain relief for suffering patients, Bugbee goes through a weeding out process, finding the best condition for the right variety plant with high CBD and low THC levels (no more than .3%).
“We say there are 9 cardinal parameters.” It’s critical to grow only the female plant. “The male plants are duds.”
What’s worse, the male plants can contaminate the rest of the crop.
Dr. Bugbee uses what’s called “clonal propagation” — rooted cuttings off the mother plant and replanting.
“It’s a genetic identical copy of the mother plant. We could make 50 small plants and they would all be female.”
Every part of the plant is put under a microscope.
“We control the nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorous potassium,” said Bugbee.
A big part of the research is daylight hours and lighting.
“Then at the critical moment, we move them into the growth chamber.”
The clippings get a police escort to the Utah Water Research Laboratory where USU Environmental Engineering Professor Bill Doucette analyzes the plant.
“This is actually the hemp flower. We’re going to crush all that. We take roughly a gram. The next step is to run it through the automated extractor,” said Doucette.
In the future, extracting CBD oil will look similar to this process on a much larger scale. Doucette is in a constant cycle: grind, extract, analyze as Bugbee’s batches of hemp arrive.
“So far the THC levels are below the .3%. That’s good news,” said Doucette.
Research at USU is possible because of the new farm bill last December making hemp legal on a federal level and allowing universities to do research.
“A new crop is very exciting. There’s so much interest in this crop. So much in front and what we don’t know,” said Bugbee.
Bugbee says he still gets excited about the old plants but he knows a lot is riding on his research.
“Hemp specifically has the potential to rejuvenate many Utah farms.”
USU is one of only a handful of universities in the U.S. conducting this type of research. They’ve only been doing it for a few months since the federal farm bill passed. Tomorrow, we dive into how a local grower is partnering with USU to help farmers become the best in the nation in industrial hemp production.