A tractor cuts a small plot of hemp at a University of Kentucky research plot near Lexington on Sept. 23, 2014. (Dylan Lovan, The Associated Press)

Move aside, corn. Nebraska researchers receive permit to use hemp as field crop

LINCOLN, Neb. — Researchers in Nebraska are one step closer to starting research on using hemp as a field crop.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s agronomy and horticulture department received a permit last week that will allow it to research hemp, the Lincoln Journal Star reported. But they’re still waiting for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to approve the importation of seeds from Canada-based Parkland Industrial Hemp Growers Cooperative.

It’ll likely take at least three weeks to get the seeds after the DEA signs off on the paperwork, said Héctor L. Santiago, assistant dean of the Agronomy Department’s Agricultural Research Division.

Professor Ismail Dweikat hopes to get plants in the ground this year. He will likely grow the seeds in a greenhouse if they don’t arrive before June 15.

Dweikat said the research will explore a variety of factors farmers will want to know about the potential crop, including nitrogen rates, harvesting techniques, the best plant spacing and whether it can make a profit.

Santiago said seeds will also be saved for research use next year.

Hemp is marijuana’s nonpsychoactive cousin, meaning that it lacks THC, the compound that gives marijuana users a high. Federal and state rules say that seeds used by researchers are certified to produce plants with a THC content less than 0.03 percent.

A wide variety of hemp products — including food, clothing and neurological medication — have gained popularity in the United States in recent years. Hemp’s rapid growth, low fertilizer requirements and drought tolerance give it great potential as a crop.

U.S. lawmakers approved growing hemp for research purposes in 2014. Last year, Nebraska senators passed legislation that only allows colleges to do that research.