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OGDEN — The typical undergraduate thesis project isn’t supposed to attract a lot of attention or controversy. Jeff Colbert, however, chose a subject that did just that. At first, he wasn’t even sure the idea would get approved by his adviser professor.
“I was fully prepared for her to say ‘no,’ just because of the nature of the plant,” Colbert said. “I mean it’s cannabis. When you hear the word cannabis, everybody thinks, 'oh that’s bad that’s illegal,' but what we’re growing has nothing to do with that world.”
That’s ultimately why his study did get approved and garnered a surprising amount of support from faculty. It may also help that Colbert works in law enforcement. Now approaching 20 years, he’s looking to botany as his next career.
With the farm bill of 2018, recently legalizing the farming of hemp plants, Colbert wanted to take a close look at how well the plant could be cultivated in the outdoors along the Wasatch Front. He’s gathered varying soil types from around the area, planting the seeds in different buckets to monitor their growth.
“It’s so new in Utah, that everybody’s asking, ‘where do I grow it? How do I grow it? Is a greenhouse the only way to do it, or can I do it in a field?'” Colbert said. “And that was really my question is 'can it be grown in a field in our environment?'”
Colbert says the study has garnered the attention of several farmers. He points out that the plant he’s licensed to grow contains extremely low levels of THC, and will not produce the high that marijuana does. Colbert believes the crop could prove to be big for some farmers.
“A farmer can change their alfalfa or corn field hemp and potentially double, triple what their income is now, and for Utah’s economy, that’s huge,” Colbert said.