The new online Hemp Essentials course from Purdue University addresses that, going beyond just production, although that topic certainly is covered.

“You can find these things separately, but nothing else goes into this depth in one place,” said Marguerite Bolt, hemp extension specialist in the Purdue College of Agriculture’s Department of Agronomy. “You’re going to get a comprehensive view of the hemp industry.”

The curriculum covers the history and legalities of hemp production, including how to grow and harvest the plant, as well as the many applications that hemp has and the economics of the industry. For farmers, hemp can be an alternate cash crop and something new to add to a crop rotation.

The course is for current hemp producers and farmers thinking of getting into the business, certified and other crop advisors and consultants, and people in hemp product manufacturing or sales, as well as individuals with an academic or educational interest. It includes some information specific to Indiana, but the content has broad applicability throughout the Midwest and beyond.

“Acreage across the U.S. has gone up each year,” said Bolt, the primary developer and instructor for Purdue’s online Hemp Essentials course. “There are new markets being created for hemp and hemp-based products. I get emails or calls every day.”

Tens of thousands of products can be made from or include some elements of the hemp plant. Products containing cannabidiol (CBD) derived from hemp are nearly ubiquitous these days in grocery stores, drug stores and health food stores, and even in gas stations. Hemp has been used for some time in textiles and paper, as a grain for food products (hemp hearts), and hemp oil in soap and culinary products. More recently, the plant has been converted to fiber employed in biocomposites for automobile parts, such as dashboards; pressed into wood-like materials, among other things for flooring; and used to make animal bedding. The interior of the hemp stalk is highly absorbent. Researchers are examining it as a graphene replacement in batteries.

What hemp isn’t is marijuana. Same plant species, but hemp, which is nonintoxicating, contains 0.3% or less of the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana. In states where recreational and medicinal marijuana are legal, claims of 10%-20% THC are not uncommon. The two crops are covered by different laws and regulations, and marijuana, unlike hemp, is still an illegal crop in some states.

More than just lecture videos, Hemp Essentials features abundant interactive and multimedia content. The online course is self-paced, and individuals taking it have access for three months once they begin. The tuition is $500 for Indiana residents and $550 for out-of-state students. There are no prerequisites, but a basic understanding of plants and soil is recommended.

The course has five modules:

  • Introduction to Hemp, covering its uses from ancient to modern times and current legal status nationally and globally.
  • Botany and Genetics, covering the anatomy, botany and genetics of the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa), including plant compounds of interest.
  • Production and Management, covering such topics as production methods for grain, fiber and high-cannabinoid hemp, as well as managing weeds, diseases and insects.
  • Harvest, Processing, and Products, covering processing and applications for grain, hurd, cannabinoids and essential oils.
  • Economics, covering the present and potential future economic state of the hemp industry and supply and demand.