SAUVIE ISLAND, Ore. — On a foggy November day, farm workers take clippers to a field of bushy green plants, snipping tops full of flower buds dotted with flecks of sticky resin.
By the end of the day, the cuttings dry inside a southeast Portland warehouse, hanging from tall plastic trellises like aromatic curtains.
This harvest from a 22-acre patch of land looks, feels and smells like marijuana. But this is hemp cultivated to produce cannabidiol, or CBD, increasingly popular in pills, tinctures, oils, rubs and foods. Though lacking a psychoactive punch, CBD also is in high demand as a smokable flower marketed online with names such as Paradise, Charlotte’s Sauce and Honolulu Haze.
If everything goes right, and that’s a big if, hemp can be a very lucrative crop.
Last year, a 1-acre patch could yield about $70,000, far more than even high-value fruit such as cherries or blueberries, according to Portland-based industry analyst Beau Whitney.
But hemp may require, even for a few dozen acres, a six-figure investment to bring the crop to market. And this year, farmers in Oregon, Washington and elsewhere are struggling with mold, poor seed quality, a scarcity of drying facilities and other problems that risk financial disaster to some. As they try to sell their crops, they find that a dramatic increase in U.S. plantings — and bottlenecks in processing — have pushed typical harvest prices down to $12,000 to $30,000 an acre.
“It’s a gold rush. Earlier in the season all people wanted to do was jam plants into the ground,” said Don Kruger, a vegetable and berry farmer who planted the island field northwest of Portland. “It was craziness, people were growing without knowing where it was going to go or who was going to harvest it… and got blindsided.”
<img data-ratio="1.42012" data-caption="A harvester works a Sauvie Island hemp field to strip off plant foliage, a raw