Healthy hay, hammered hemp


Last updated 10/18/2022 at Noon

Don’t you love the smell of autumn? The dried plants and leaves with their potpourri scents wafting up as we tramp through the woods? As leaves fall and die they give off any number of gases as they expire, which fill the air with scents that trigger our nostalgia mechanisms.

YouGov did a study (they have a poll for everything it seems) and learned that 31 percent of us say fall is our favorite season. Spring is still the most popular season among those over 55.

Notwithstanding that I have mild hay fever, something I share with 20 percent of the population, I love the smell of fresh-cut hay such as we’re seeing all over Sisters Country these last few weeks as the second cut is on the ground drying or baled and stored away.

Hay, alfalfa, and orchard grass farmers are reporting excellent second cuttings, crediting it to having enough water this year and plenty of sunshine and good temperatures. The second cutting usually has more leaves on the stem and the fat content is a bit higher, with the fiber level somewhat lower.

Second-cutting hay usually fetches more at market. The market for hay has been crazy this year; ask farmers who are getting near-record prices. It’s not translating in taking more money to the bank, however, as their costs for fertilizer and fuel are in some cases double last year.

We complain about gas at $5.69 but farms run on diesel which is running steadily over $6. Here in Deschutes County for the week ending October 14, second-cutting small square bales of alfalfa went for $425/ton. Premium Timothy grass clocked in at $450. One farmer bagged $475/ton for 10 tons of premium mixed grass.

What you’re not smelling this year is the pungent aroma of hemp being cut. As in 2021, hemp in Sisters Country is a bust, virtually nonexistent. Hemp for industrial purposes, like fiber for clothing, was all the rage in 2018, leading to a meteoric rise in planting in 2019, largely converting hay to the promised new-found riches of hemp.

There were 511,442 acres planted in 2109, and last year that crashed to 107,702. Less than 75,000 acres were forecast for this year.

Around Sisters Country thousands of pounds of baled or uncut hemp lay rotting by the summer of 2020. When it became suddenly clear that hemp was not the proverbial pot of gold for making paper bags or dresses, a lot of hemp producers tried to move into CBD oils and derivatives.

You probably think that hemp and marijuana are not the same thing. I did. We would be wrong. They are simply different names for cannabis. Botanists don’t distinguish between the two, but the law does. The only difference is the THC content, the part of the plant that creates a high. Hemp has only 0.3 percent THC while most Oregon-grown marijuana is at least four percent, with some illegal producers promising THC in the 10-15 percent range.

The Cyrus family — a pioneering farming family in the Cloverdale area — were early into hemp, planting 30 acres almost five years ago. They planted 90 the following year. At that time their plants could be sold for $40 a pound! Not a bale, not a ton. A pound. The Cyruses were cashing in on the CBD craze. CBD – cannabidiol - is the oil extracted from the hemp plant and used for all sorts of wellness products.

CBD is packaged and marketed in all manner of form and uses – gummies, capsules, topicals, tinctures, sleep aids, health drinks, and more. Today, you can pay $80 for 600 mg of CBD-based pain relief balm or — get this — $160 for 200 mg of formulated CBD to “balance” or “calm” you. Or you could ride your bike or walk on Peterson Ridge for free. That always calms and balances me.

A majority of hemp producers blame another government agency for the bust. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) won’t allow the sale of CBD as a food product or dietary supplement. The reason why? The compound is an approved ingredient in a prescription drug used to treat childhood epilepsy.

So, Uncle Sam giveth (USDA) with one hand and taketh away (USFDA) with the other.

Whatever. The Cyruses and a few dozen other Sisters Country growers have returned to hay.

And my sense of smell is all the better for it.


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