Strong hemp growth boosts JMU-led consortium looking at agriculture, economics

jmuA crop of Canadian hemp is flourishing on a farm east of Harrisonburg where a James Madison University professor continues his research on best practices for cultivating the plant.

Samuel Morton, a professor of engineering, has been planting batches of the fast-growing Cannabis plant about every two weeks since mid-May. “We just don’t know the ideal planting time for hemp in the Valley,” he said. “What we do know about planting schedules for hemp is based on where the hemp was originally cultivated.” Places such as Canada, Spain, France, Poland and the Ukraine, he said.

“The challenge from this is that the solar growing cycle, moisture cycle, weed emergence and growth cycle, and temperature profile — soil and air — is different for each,” Morton said. “We had some general sense that a June timing worked better for our region but nothing verified.  Hence the sequential study.”

Hemp is also growing well on two other farms working with Morton. “It’s going to be a great year for hemp if we don’t get too much rain all of a sudden,” he said.

Morton has been researching best practices for growing hemp in the central Shenandoah Valley since 2015. Some of his research is part of a larger study funded by a $53,630 grant from Go Virginia. Matching funds from a number of local governments and in-kind donations of time and effort from researchers and consultants make the total grant $107,260. GO Virginia is an initiative by Virginia’s senior business leaders to foster private-sector growth and job creation through state incentives for regional collaboration by business, education and government.

C.K. Lee, a professor of management in the JMU College of Business, is researching the industrial hemp market landscape and value chain. To date, Lee and his collaborators have developed an understanding of the external environment and industry analysis. Over the next four months, they will interview and gather information from partners in the region to better understand the current state of the industrial hemp value chain in the valley.

Lee said he is “honored to have a role in the economic feasibility analysis research to explore how the newly emerging hemp industry can benefit our local economy and community.”

The results of the agricultural and economic research are being published on a website, the third part of the project being funded by the grant, which also contains information about JMU’s history and activities related to industrial hemp as well as a short survey for visitors to sign-up to receive updates and participate in the work. The website and a final report will serve as resources for Go Virginia Region 8 growers, entrepreneurs, manufacturers and others to connect with the value chain community.

The report, due in April 2021, will incorporate an as-is analysis along with a to-be scenario analysis, recommendations and an action plan for the developing industrial hemp market in the Shenandoah Valley, and an economic feasibility analysis. The agricultural and processing component of the report will highlight challenges that have been encountered throughout the region and opportunities for future research.


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