Industrial hemp research part of plan to save K-State horticulture center near Wichita

Industrial hemp research and other proposed changes may keep a Kansas State University horticulture center near Wichita from closing.

The university in June had planned to close the John C. Pair Horticulture Center in Haysville, but school officials said in a news release Thursday that the research facility has been saved from closure after input from industry leaders and stakeholders. Industrial hemp research will be the top of several initiatives in the Pair Center’s new operations.

Lower state funding for higher education and declining enrollment were cited when university officials decided to cut $3.5 million from the College of Agriculture and K-State Research and Extension’s budget last summer. But a College of Agriculture official had said the university would consider keeping the center open if alternative funding sources were found.

Jason Griffin, director of the Pair Center, and a task force were assigned to develop a plan to make the center self-sustaining. They needed to find $230,000 in new revenue sources each year for a center that was only bringing in about $30,000 a year.

“We needed to come up with a feasible, entrepreneurial plan that would allow the center to keep its doors open and continue research in order to address the needs of the future,” said Cheryl Boyer, K-State associate professor and extension specialist for nursery crops, in the release. “Now we need time to move forward on these plans and complete the tasks that we have laid out for ourselves.”

Industrial hemp research tops the list. University leaders see the K-State center becoming the primary research location for hemp crops in Kansas, the news release says. Officials say the research could bring in grant funding.

Former Gov. Jeff Colyer signed the Alternative Crop Research Act on April 20 — the date of the marijuana holiday 4/20 — to allow for industrial hemp research. The Kansas Department of Agriculture oversees the program at K-State, whose industrial hemp includes parts of a cannabis plant containing a tetrahydrocannabinol or THC concentration of no more than 0.3 percent in dry weight.

Operating revenue for the center could be generated from certified plants and seeds, the release said.

A year ago, five full-time staffers worked at the Haysville center in addition to several student summer workers. The center opened a $400,000 building in 2013 that also houses Kansas Forest Service facilities.

“We appreciate the administration for rethinking this decision,” Griffin said in the release. “We have to give a big shout-out to local- and national-level industries that stepped up to voice their concern about the decision.”

The Pair Center opened in 1970, focusing on research and extension activities related to woody ornamental crop production and utilization. Additional research crops have included grapes, peaches, strawberries, asparagus, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and tomatoes. The center also evaluates trees, shrubs, flowers, turfgrass and bulbs.

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