NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences looks to lead the state in new crop research

By Carlos Andres López ’10

With hemp production now legal in New Mexico and nationwide, the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at NMSU hopes to take the lead in helping hemp producers across the state become profitable and sustainable.

In response to state and federal measures that legalized hemp in 2018, the College of ACES is seeking to develop a $9.1 million research center devoted to hemp, a plant related to marijuana, containing less than 0.3 percent of the cannabinoid chemical THC.

The NMSU Board of Regents approved regulations in November 2018 allowing farmers in New Mexico to apply for a license to produce hemp as part of a new program administered by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. Hemp production was then legalized nationwide the following month with the passage of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill.

Hemp can be used to generate thousands of products from food, fuel and textiles to oils, medicines, furniture and construction material. The global market value of hemp is projected to reach $20 billion by 2022, according to NMSU researchers. Along with its profitability, hemp also offers agricultural benefits. It requires substantially less water than many other crops grown in New Mexico and flourishes in different climates and soil conditions.

“The College of ACES has the capabilities to help industrial hemp producers in New Mexico become profitable and sustainable,” College of ACES Dean Rolando Flores says. “We will direct appropriate, interdisciplinary and collaborative research at all aspects of industrial hemp production, processing and marketing and pass along our results to producers and stakeholders through the Cooperative Extension Service and Agricultural Experiment Station.”

However, Flores stresses that hemp research at NMSU will not happen immediately because the college needs to secure funding first for its proposals. 

“It will take some time for us to be able to fully realize the ambitious idea of this hemp program. We are going to have to pick and choose what we do with limited funding,” he says.

In early 2019, the College of ACES detailed its hemp research and education proposals in a white paper. The proposed areas of research include production; genetics; valued-added; economics, industry development and marketing; and Extension and education.

Under the proposal, production research would focus on studies aimed at developing best management practices for hemp production at different locations in New Mexico, while genetic research would focus on finding genetic means to eliminate THC production and increase cannabidiol synthesis in hemp.

A separate value-added agriculture research program would determine how hemp could be used to add value to other commodities. 

“Hemp could have many practical applications throughout New Mexico, such as absorbing heavy metal from soils, suppressing weeds and soil-borne pathogens and many other valuable applications,” Flores says. 

Additionally, the hemp genetics and hemp value-added, agricultural research will be key components of NMSU’s Center of Excellence in Sustainable Food and Agricultural Systems, a unit in development in association with the Agricultural Modernization and Educational Facilities initiative, part of General Obligation Bond D, which voters approved in November 2018.