Colorado State University-Pueblo will offer a new hemp agriculture degree program next fall, funded in part by the United States Department of Agriculture.
CSU-Pueblo already offers other cannabis degree programs and has been home to the Institute of Cannabis Research since 2016; current undergraduates can pursue a bachelor’s degree in cannabis biology and chemistry or a minor in cannabis studies. Starting next year, however, students can narrow their studies to focus on industrial hemp, thanks to a new research program starting up at several colleges around the country.
CSU-Pueblo’s Industrial Hemp Education, Agriculture and Research (InHEAR) program will require students to take courses specifically tailored toward agricultural hemp research and either do an internship with one of CSU-Pueblo’s hemp industry partners or conduct research at the Institute of Cannabis Research. Development of the new curriculum is funded by a $275,000 grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture; similar degrees are offered at other colleges across the country, including Cornell University, Murray State University, Santa Rosa Junior College and Dakota College at Bottineau.
“This will be its own degree program. It has its own set of courses that we’re developing the coursework for,” explains CSU-Pueblo professor Jonathan Velasco. “Students will graduate with a Bachelor of Science within [cannabis biology and chemistry], and the emphasis will be on hemp agriculture because of the coursework they did.”
Courses surrounding the chemistry and biology of cannabis will give students hemp-specific lab backgrounds, while other classes about industrial agriculture will prepare students for careers in commercial hemp farming. Students enrolled in CSU-Pueblo’s industrial hemp degree program will not be involved in cannabis or hemp extraction, but will be prepared for careers in large-scale hemp cultivation, according to Velasco.
“They’re not going to be the ones extracting the products from the cannabis plant, but they could be one part of the supply chain to get products to other firms,” he says.
The Institute of Cannabis Research’s work focuses strictly on low-potency hemp cannabis that is federally legal, according to Velasco — and that should keep students and faculty plenty busy, as the hemp-derived CBD market has exploded in recent years. Hemp was removed from the
Controlled Substances Act in 2018, and is now federally legal to farm. Although hemp-derived extracts with CBD intended for human consumption are still unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration, one study by a New York investment bank predicts CBD products could bring in
$16 billion by 2025.
With hemp being essential to CBD products, some Colorado farmers have directed their attention to the newest cash crop to mixed results as the rest of the country enters the market. However, Colorado remains a national leader in hemp and CBD production thanks to recreational marijuana laws allowing early adoption of commercial hemp production.
“I think that, especially for southern and southeastern Colorado, where we do have the climate that allows for hemp agriculture, you would want an economic portfolio with the cannabis plant,” Velasco adds. “Not just for southern Colorado, but for the rest of the state.”
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