Southern Illinois University is busy clearing land to plant a new hemp research field later this spring.  It’s part of a pair of new programs designed to help provide research to the state’s emerging cannabis industry and offer training to students interested in cannabis-related careers.

Researchers at SIU’s colleges of science and agricultural sciences have been planning the programs for years, according to a statement from a university spokesman. Earlier this year, the DEA allowed the university to start work on the five-acre hemp field.

The field will be split into a series of individual test plots with a portion set aside for “interdisciplinary collaboration” between agriculture, plant biology, chemistry, engineering and business students, among others, the statement said.

“We want to create a program to support this emerging industry,” said Karen Midden, interim dean of agricultural sciences. “We’re getting this request and input from stakeholders, who are reaching out to us, telling us they need the science. But we’re also getting it from students – current and potential students – that they would like to have programs to prepare them for work in these areas.”

Given that Gov. Bruce Rauner only recently legalized industrial hemp, researchers want to determine whether it’s feasible to grow the crop in Illinois. As part of the program, they will study how hemp fits in with Southern Illinois’ existing crops, like corn and soy beans, according to the statement.

“Research conducted there will allow us to best inform Southern Illinois growers about how to cultivate industrial hemp crops,” said Jim Garvey, interim vice chancellor for research. “We will also be able to learn about how to minimize soil erosion and ensure sustainable harvests.”

School officials also hope to add a program next year that would certify students to produce medical cannabis, the statement said. Aldwin Anterola, associate professor in plant biology, wants to ultimately team with state-licensed pot growers to research strains, their components and their biological effects.

The program remains in the approval process, according to the statement.

“We really need science behind this,” Anterola said. “Medical marijuana is in its infancy, and with our expertise at SIU, we could help a lot in terms of quality control and standardization.”

SIU follows a growing number of major universities that have already started researching hemp and cannabis.

Northern Michigan University has created a four-year degree in medicinal plant chemistry, the University of Connecticut is offering a course in cannabis horticulture and the University of Pennsylvania has launched a hemp cultivation program and received state approval to study medical pot.

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