Study Examines Impact of Wildfires on Hemp Crops and Extracts

January 06, 2021
Hemp Benchmarks map of Oregon fires and grow sites from mid-September 2020

The wildfires that ravaged the West Coast in the late summer and early autumn were especially devastating in Oregon, where – in addition to numerous deaths, thousands of homes and businesses destroyed, and over a million acres burned – the state’s hemp industry was also threatened. Data collected and analyzed for a Hemp Market Insider report, published in mid-September, showed that 17% of the hemp grow sites in Oregon were facing imminent danger from the wildfires at the time.

Assessing the actual impact of the blazes on the state’s industry has been challenging. We mentioned in our November report that hemp program officials in Oregon told Hemp Benchmarks that there was only very minimal and preliminary data available regarding the amount of wildfire damage caused to the state’s hemp sector. Additionally, there is uncertainty as to exactly what types of contamination can result from such natural disasters, complicating efforts to test crops and products manufactured from them for safety and purity. 

Outdoor hemp barely visible through thick wildfire smoke. Oregon wildfires 2020
Outdoor hemp barely visible through thick wildfire smoke.
Image Courtesy: FSOil / Iverson Family Farms

However, two Oregon companies partnered to do their own internal study on the potential impact to their hemp from this year’s wildfires. The companies, FSOil and Iverson Family Farms, published the results of their analysis on FSOil’s website in late November. The trials were designed to examine the impact of contaminants potentially contained in wildfire smoke and ash on hemp flower and extracted CBD oil. A variety of samples were collected and examined for the following:

  • Pesticides and Heavy Metals;
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH), a class of chemicals produced when coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage, and other combustible materials are burned;
  • Smoke taint. 

The study’s overall conclusion is that hemp grown as close as eight to 10 miles from one of the major wildfires was considered safe, at least in regard to the contaminants tested for. Researchers also noted that the results are being reviewed, and that “new data will arise based on what precisely burned in proximity to specific farms.”

Giavanna Accurso, Director of Research and Development at Iverson Family Farms and FSOil, said the independent study was done in order to have a better understanding about the wildfires’ impact on hemp. And while researchers were unable to test for some toxic chemicals, such as dioxin, “it’s as safe as we can find at this point,” she told Hemp Benchmarks. The study was also a collaborative effort, Accurso added, with input and guidance from regional labs, universities, and county extension agents.

Outdoor hemp blanketed in smoke and ash from wildfires. Oregon wildfires 2020
Outdoor hemp blanketed in smoke and ash from wildfires.
Image Courtesy: FSOil / Iverson Family Farms

Hemp, Accurso pointed out, “is a very high-investment crop, it’s not like growing some radishes. It’s a dollar a seed, so when you think about an acre of hemp, it is $2,000 to $5,000 as an investment just on the seed alone.” She stated that Iverson Family Farms and FSOil had the facilities and resources to begin investigations into the issue of wildfire damage to hemp crops. “We wanted to be able to be a voice … to make sure that if this happens again, we’ve started the conversation and we have pushed it forward as best we can.”

Additional research is necessary to evaluate the potential impacts of wildfires on hemp crops and how they might be mitigated. However, buttressing the findings of the study described above are the experiences of the legal marijuana industries in Oregon and California, which have grappled with severe wildfires on numerous occasions in recent years, as our Cannabis Benchmarks division has covered. Both states have some of the most stringent testing requirements in the nation for marijuana products and there has not been any significant uptick in flower and other plant material failing tests for pesticides, heavy metals, and other contaminants in the wake of wildfires. A recent report from the North Bay Business Journal stated as much regarding California’s outdoor marijuana crop this year.

Subscribe to the Hemp Benchmarks Spot Price Index Report for more on this topic, 2021 hemp news, and monthly categorical pricing analysis.

Hemp Industries Association Midwest Hemp Council National Hemp Association