Hemp is back in Virginia … thanks to research. Early participants in a research program, the Glenn Rodes’ family farm in Rockingham County was one of the first to harvest this year’s hemp, a crop that has not been cultivated in Virginia soil in decades.
Virginia joins other states such as California, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Montana where a framework has been established for regulating commercial hemp, but the crop is still considered illegal outside of research programs unless federal law changes.
Hemp, once just as popular as tobacco on Virginia farms, was eradicated with the 1930’s war on drugs. The plant’s potential was tainted in the public eye, as it is a variety of Cannabis sativa … the same species as the marijuana plant.
However many might not realize the plant is estimated to have up to 50,000 uses … across nine markets: agriculture, textiles, recycling, automotive, furniture, food/nutrition/beverages, paper, construction materials, and personal care.
State legislatures have recently taken action to promote industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity. In the 2014 farm bill, Congress allowed state ag departments to license the growing of industrial hemp for research purposes.
With the change in federal law, at least 20 states have passed laws creating industrial hemp research or pilot programs. Virginia currently has research programs underway at Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, and James Madison University.The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services imported 16 varieties of seed and issued licenses to 29 people to grow the product this year as part of the research programs.
Kentucky’s industrial research is investigating the environmental benefit or impact of hemp, the potential use of the crop as an energy source or biofuel, and the agronomy research worldwide relating to hemp. The North Carolina Hemp Commission is examining the best practices for soil conservation and restoration in collaboration with two state universities.
The United States is currently the only industrialized nation where hemp production is illegal, however the country is one of the largest consumers of the products. The current U.S. market is more than $600 million … all from imports.