WEST LAFAYETTE, IN -- Some Purdue University students might have spent their summer consuming a certain plant. Ron Turco spent his summer growing it.
Turco, a professor of agronomy at Purdue, and a team of researchers planted in June Indiana's first industrial hemp in 80 years. Although derived from the same plant family, hemp contains a fraction of the THC — the plant's psychoactive ingredient — found in marijuana. It was legalized for research purposes at universities and state institutions of agriculture in a 2014 federal farm bill.
"You can smoke our whole field," Turco said, "but you'll potentially get lung cancer before you get high."
Turco will host public tours of the farm Aug. 25 for a Purdue Extension field day, where he'll share the hoops he jumped through to grow the long outlawed plant and what he's learned while farming it. Tours will be given from 8:15-11:30 a.m. and 1-4 p.m. Cost to attend is $20 at Meigs Farm, 9101 S. Tippecanoe County Road 100 E. in Lafayette. To participate in the field day, contact Lisa Green of the Purdue Crop Diagnostic Training and Research Center at (765) 494-4783 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Because hemp can be used to manufacture a variety of materials, including rope, fabric, fuel, construction material and paper, he said his research will focus on how the plant could be grown on a wide scale in the Midwest. If legislation in Congress legalizes commercial production, Turco said Indiana is poised to return as one of the biggest growers of hemp since World War II.
"Purdue, Indiana, the Midwest could be a major growing area for ... industrial hemp and we want to be ready for that opportunity," he said.
Purdue students could even get their hands on the plants as research continues into next summer. It's training that College of Agriculture graduates — who Bill Levin, founder of Indiana's First Church of Cannabis, claimed are sought after in the marijuana industry — might find useful.
Turco, however, said he's never heard that assertion. But he understands the rationale.
"We have really good, great students, so if I just make the general jump that our students can grow plants, and cannabis is a plant — then yeah," he said. "I don't know whether that's true or not. I know that it's a developing area of work for people."
Despite a wet growing season, the hemp plants are tall and will be ready for harvest in weeks. Don't get your hopes up, though, because Turco plans to destroy the evidence.