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Searching for ways to boost hemp production

  • UMES research funded by $200,000 Maryland Industrial Partnerships grant

    Friday, February 14, 2020
    James Bresette, Sadanand Dhekney, Jurgen Schwarz & Moses Kairo

    The University of Maryland Eastern Shore has secured a $200,000 grant to underwrite research that a private-sector partner hopes will produce a road map to make growing industrial hemp a profitable commodity across the state. 

    The investment by the University of Maryland-based Maryland Industrial Partnerships program will underwrite two years of research coordinated by UMES' Dr. Sadanand Dhekney, a geneticist and plant breeding specialist. 

    UMES successfully leveraged the business-incubator grant by partnering with The Native Plant Company based in Frederick, Md., which pledged $20,000 toward the research.

    “The Native Plant Company brings years of experience growing high-quality cannabis plants and making quality cannabis products accessible to Marylanders,” said Trish Hall, Native Plant's chief compliance officer. “Our company values its partnership with UMES to bring these same high standards to growing hemp and making quality hemp-derived products available to consumers.”

    Hemp is a source of cannabidiol, which has medicinal applications in the treatment of chronic pain, anxiety and seizures like those associated with childhood epilepsy, according to the Harvard Medical School.

    The goal of UMES' research is to develop, through micro-propagation, high quality, genetically defined, disease-free, locally sourced hemp plant materials for sale to Maryland growers.

    Spurred on by recent legislation intended to regulate the commercial production of industrial hemp in the United States, UMES has committed to partnering with local farmers while studying the production and management of the crop.

    Promising initial findings show the lower Eastern Shore to be a favorable locale to cultivate the plant, which has emerged as a promising cash crop that its proponents believe will diversify the state's agriculture economy.

    “Our work, with hands-on help from our students, is focused on establishing a hemp genetic material 'library' and use micro-propagation technology to achieve large-scale production of clean, disease-free hemp plants,” Dhekney said. “Better plants means better products - and better profits."

    Dhekney currently is advising 12 Maryland hemp farmers who are experimenting with various strains and growing conditions, seeking varieties that can flourish in Maryland's temperate climate.

    Over the past two years, UMES' School of Pharmacy also has incorporated instruction on cannabidiol - or CBD, as it is more commonly known - into its curriculum, and also has organized seminars and workshops on its benefits.

    Dr. James Bresette, associate dean and an associate professor of pharmacy practice and administration at UMES, has coordinated much of that work, including outreach to The Native Plant Company to partner with the university on the research project.

    "This aligns perfectly with our university mission to educate our students for the world of work and to be a trusted, knowledgeable resource to benefit Maryland citizens, farmers and businesses," Bresette said.

    Hall, a 1999 UMES alumna, added, “Our investment of funds and experience combined with UMES's agricultural and medicinal expertise are key elements to securing this innovative MIPS grant award. Results of our joint research thus far have convinced The Native Plant Company to expand our hemp grow operations to the Eastern Shore.”