Researchers across the state are trying to figure out how to turn an old Virginia crop into a new, viable one.
Industrial hemp cultivation was once common in Virginia but has been banned for the past 80 years. To discuss its potential, a first-of-its-kind Industrial Hemp Field Day was held Aug. 17 at Virginia State University. The event provided a forum for potential growers, researchers, marketing experts and industrial hemp product users to discuss the future of the crop in Virginia and neighboring states.
“Industrial hemp is a very important issue, especially for Gov. McAuliffe,” said Dr. Basil Gooden, Virginia secretary of agriculture and forestry, who attended the field day. “We’ve had many conversations about the viability of industrial hemp. We’ve engaged the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services with it and met on how to move legislation and policies forward on how we can make industrial hemp a product grown across the commonwealth.”
VSU is one of a handful of higher learning institutions authorized to conduct industrial hemp research in Virginia. The university began its field research in 2016.
Hemp and marijuana both come from the same plant, but each has different properties. Hemp is a versatile field crop that can be processed into different products with multiple uses. Its stalk can be used to produce biofuel, and fiber for textile items, building materials, industrial products and different types of paper. The seeds can be used to produce animal feed and human food and can serve as sources of oil for cosmetic and personal care products.
Hemp has low THC levels—typically less than .3 percent—and marijuana contains anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent THC.
“Industrial hemp and marijuana are two different but related crops,” explained Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Industrial hemp consumption does not result in the psychotic effect normally associated with marijuana.”
Banks added that farmers “are interested in potential market opportunities for industrial hemp, provided it is profitable. It is too early in the process to determine the level of future U.S. hemp demand, whether it is enough to justify infrastructure investment, and expected on-farm production costs and revenue.”
Craig Lee, former president of the Kentucky Hemp Growers Association, noted that no on-farm processing is needed for industrial hemp.
“Cut it down, and take it right into processing. But you need a supply line. Quality, consistency and continuity of the supply is needed.” He added that a strong infrastructure and organization is important for the crop to be successful.