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Tuskegee joins study of agricultural, economic opportunities for industrial hemp cultivation

July 19, 2019

Contact: Jacquelyn Carlisle, College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences

TU Hemp plants growing in field
TU Hemp plants

Tuskegee University has been selected as one of five Alabama universities licensed by the state to grow and study the industrial hemp plant – a non-intoxicating cannabinoid. The research at Tuskegee is designed to benefit producers by identifying the best varieties and innovative research techniques that should be used under state guidelines to ensure industrial hemp is cultivated efficiently and profitably.

Dr. Desmond Mortley, a research professor of plant and soil science in the College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences, is heading the research and evaluating hemp’s agronomic characteristics. He also is investigating the best seeds and varieties with optimum proportions of cannabidiol oil (CBD) and fiber content under growing conditions.  

“We are looking at planting dates, plant varieties, adaptability and productivity, and days to maturity,” Mortley explained. “In addition, we are also interested in finding which seeds produce which proportions of oil and useful residue under growing conditions.”

For centuries, people have used hemp for a variety of purposes, including rope. This research will ultimately support other suspected uses for its CBD oil, which range from medicine to fiber. Hemp, a cousin of marijuana, contains low levels of THC — the psychoactive substance that produces marijuana’s “high.” While other universities focus on the medicinal opportunities, Mortley and his colleagues — including Dr. Walter Hill, the college’s dean, Drs. Conrad Bonsi and Raymon Shange, Franklin QuarCoo and Gertrude Wall — will concentrate on factors relating to growing and cultivating hemp.

Desmond Mortley

In June, the researchers planted more than 900 “Cherry Wine” female industrial hemp plants to determine which variety grows best in Alabama and how to make them grow better. The plants will be grown for 75 days, then their flowers harvested. Tuskegee will also receive other varieties of seeds used exclusively for fiber and will grow those in both a greenhouse and growth chambers. 

The other universities approved with licenses under the state’s pilot growing program include Alabama A&M University, Alabama State University, Troy University and the University of Alabama.

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