Agriculture is a major backbone of Midwest economy and a local university has plans to begin a revolutionary program rooted in the booming Illinois cannabis industry. In fact, the cannabis industry is among America’s fastest growing job markets according to Forbes magazine. Western Illinois University (WIU) is accepting enrollment of students in Fall 2020 interested in earning a minor in cannabis production, a move that is expected to help fill a much-needed void in an ever-growing cannabis industry.
The reality is that very few educational opportunities exist within the cannabis industry, even more so as it relates to cannabis horticulture. The program at WIU is expected to cover cannabis anatomy, physiology, breeding, propagation methods, management techniques, post-harvest processing, commercial production, crop rotations and product applications.
“We’re excited to be a part of this flourishing industry and providing in-demand, and new, academic opportunities for our students,” said Martin Abraham, WIU Interim President. “Because of our many years of work in alternative crops, and the outstanding expertise of our faculty at Western, we are in a unique position to be at the forefront of cannabis studies.”
The Faculty Senate at WIU approved the new minor at its February 4th meeting. The majority of the courses for the 18 to 19 credit hour minor will be offered through WIU’s School of Agriculture, but some of the classes will come from the school’s Department of Biological Sciences.
It seems a fitting time as the state of Illinois entered adult use legalization January 1st and a number of other states are passing landmark medical and/or recreational cannabis programs of their own. Licensed cannabis cultivation centers in Illinois are expanding their operations and the need for qualified employees is in tremendous demand. Illinois will be granting craft grower licenses starting July 1st in an effort to ramp up cannabis production in the state and these entities will be seeking qualified employees as well. Craft growers are different from cultivation centers in that they can grow a limited square footage of cannabis and a separate licensed entity must process the plant material to be made into the various cannabis products.
Furthermore, with the passing of the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, there is much interest in the crop among the farming community. That law effectively removed hemp, defined as cannabis with less than 0.3% THC, from the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances elevating it to the same level as any other agricultural commodity. Industrial hemp is an incredibly versatile crop with a wide variety of applications including CBD-based products, clothing, food and more.
“School of Agriculture Professor Win Phippen, who leads our alternative crops program, has been conducting research on hemp for several years, and most recently, added a cannabis component to his research,” noted WIU School of Agriculture Director Andy Baker. “This new course and minor are perfect complements to our comprehensive agriculture degree program.”
Individuals interested in learning more about the cannabis production minor should contact WIU’s School of Agriculture at (309) 298-1080 or AJ-Baker@wiu.edu.