JoAnne Skelly: Hemp’s a viable crop for Nevada

Recently a reader asked me about growing hemp. According to Penn State Extension (, hemp was often found in early settlements and used as a fiber source. It was widely grown in Pennsylvania and other states in the 1700s and 1800s. Not only grown for fiber, its oil was used “in paints, ink, varnishes and lamp oil.” Conestoga wagon covers and clothing were made from hemp. Today clothes, wallets, shoes, rope, nets, carpet, tarps and even paper and building materials are constructed from hemp. Hemp leaves can be used for mulch, in compost and for animal bedding. The oil is a component of food supplements, birdseed, beauty products, soaps, moisturizers and pain relief products. Finally, the seeds are a seed source for the next crop or ground into flour.

“Industrial hemp includes the non-psychoactive, low-THC, oil, seed and fiber varieties of the plant Cannabis sativa” (Nevada Department of Agriculture). The 2016 Farm Bill defines hemp as “The plant Cannabis sativa L. with a THC content of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis…” Hemp isn’t viable as a recreational drug because recreational marijuana has 15 to 22 percent THC.

The 2015 Nevada Legislature legalized the cultivation of hemp for research and pilot projects only. Nevada is one of 38 states to have done so.

“It is illegal under federal law to possess viable hemp seed except for use in an authorized research trial” (NDA). In Nevada, a license must be authorized by the NDA. There are three types of applications for industrial hemp licenses: for growers, for seed producers and for handlers who will make hemp into products.

Once licensed, growers must notify NDA of all seed orders, broken down by variety, which must be shipped to NDA for intake processing. NDA also must be informed of the intended focus for the hemp, such as animal bedding, fiber, grain, biofuel, dietary supplement, food/drink additive, oil extraction, seed stock, insulation, cosmetics and others

Hemp grows best in well-drained loose soils with a pH between 6.0 to 7.0. It’s planted in rows like corn. Currently, there are no herbicides labeled for use on hemp. This means weeding by hand or mechanically. It can be susceptible to a variety of diseases and insect pests.

Proponents of hemp production feel it offers farmers in Nevada and other states opportunities for crop diversification and profitability and broader product selection for consumers.

JoAnne Skelly is associate professor and Extension educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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