BY KURT HEATH
For Oregon hemp growers, an unlikely threat has emerged this growing season— deer. Media outlets in Southern Oregon recently reported that deer invaded and feasted on many of the roughly 1000 marijuana plants part of Oregon’s first industrial hemp crop. The story spread nationally among traditional news media and was also widely reported in pro marijuana blogs and websites. According to Cliff Johnson, one of the business partners helping to manage the industrial crop, as few as 40 plants were left standing by the time the deer had finished.
Johnson expressed surprise at the incident, saying, “Generally, I don’t think they like cannabis, but they sure liked ours.” The truth is, deer are very likely to eat hemp, depending on certain factors, and industrial hemp growers may be particularly susceptible.
“Will Deer Eat My Outdoor Marijuana Plants?” That was the headline of an informative 2014 article posted by the popular Weed Blog. The blog indicates that deer, unlike other animals, don’t mind the taste of hemp in the early stages of growth. The more mature the plants become, the less likely deer, or any animal for that matter, are to eat it. Younger marijuana plants are a different story, however. These plants have less levels of THC, the psychoactive agent in hemp. As plants mature, THC increases and makes them less edible. Industrial hemp, the target of the deer in Southern Oregon, typically has low levels of THC, leaving it particularly vulnerable to the pallets of deer. Additionally, the deer are attracted to the plant because it’s relatively high in protein.
Orhemco, the name of the impacted Southern Oregon hemp company, failed to erect sufficient fencing tall enough to keep deer out. At the time of planting, there was some concern that a bill in the Oregon Legislature targeting enterprises like Orhemco was about to put the company out of business before it really got off the ground. The business uncertainty resulting from the proposed legislation caused the company to complete adequate fencing on only some of the land, leaving much of the crop vulnerable. Orhemco figured the threat from deer and other herbivores was small and worth the risk. The shorter fencing that stood between the hemp and deer, however, appears to have been easily trampled under hoof.
The Grants Pass Daily Courier, which originally reported the incident, compared the deer’s impact on the industrial hemp crop to that of a high-powered mower.