Hagan, Va.’s biggest hemp grower, sees big potential in new industry
CHRISTIANSBURG, Md. — Matt Hagan is a man who takes risks. The championship drag racing champion and a beef cattle farmer is now launching Virginia’s largest hemp farm here along Interstate 81.
The 36-year-old Hagan said he is excited about the potential of hemp unleashed by the 2018 Farm Bill’s legalization of the crop. His multi-million dollar investment, Truharvestfarms, spreads across 100 acres of rolling land where horses and cattle grazed until very recently.
He said he is also very much aware of the risks involved and how terribly wrong hemp growing can go in a hurry. He is quick to caution anyone considering growing it to do their homework and know what they are getting into before they begin.
Hagan is a professional National Hot Rod Association funny car driver for Don Schumacher Racing. Among his accomplishments are the 2011 and 2014 NHRA Funny Car World Championship.
He describes himself as a first generation farmer who started small. He bought a 100 acres in Floyd County and began with 50 cows. Now he said he grazes about 700 brood cows over 2,100 acres in three Southwest Virginia counties.
Hemp has been on his radar for several years but couldn’t make big moves on it until the Farm Bill passed, he said.
Virginia’s Industrial Hemp law has been amended to eliminate the requirement that hemp be grown for research purposes.
The change became effective on March 21. It permits the production of industrial hemp.
Michael Wallace, assistant director of communications for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said though the crop is now legal to grow, growers must register for a permit with VDACS.
“To legally possess hemp plants, viable hemp seed, hemp microgreens, hemp leaves, or hemp flowers in Virginia, you must be a registered Industrial Hemp Grower, Dealer, or Processor or an agent of one of these registrants for the purpose of growing, dealing or processing,” he said.
Wallace said as of May 10 VDACS had issued 689 Industrial Grower Registrations, 105 Industrial Hemp Processor Registrations and seven Industrial Dealer Registrations.
“Grower registration applications indicate that these Registered Industrial Hemp Growers plan to plant over 7,000 acres in industrial hemp this growing season,” he said.
Hagan uses what was once a large riding stable for office and shop space for his organic hemp.
Hagan, John Straw, his head grower and Brandon Pitcher, consultant and founder/owner of Blue Circle, a hemp development company, recounted many of the ups and downs of becoming established in hemp farming.
“I thought I could just throw some sees into the ground and grow it,” Hagan recalled.
He soon found out this is not the case. While hemp is being grown in Colorado and Oregon with success, there is very little information on how it will do in Virginia, Hagan said.
The acres of plastic-covered beds ready for planting hemp clones are witness to the labor-intensive crop that will grow in them. Farm workers last week were busy installing drip irrigation.
Hagan and Straw said the plants will be spaced at about five foot intervals on beds that are five feet apart.
Along with a lot of hand weeding to comply with Certified Organic standards, monitoring the beds to be sure no male hemp plants are growing in them is another hands-on task, Hagan said. Success requires that all plants be female as the pollen producing male will contaminate the whole crop, they revealed.
Organic fertilizers, four times more expensive than conventional commercial fertilizers, Hagan said, are a must too. He was able to obtain organic certification quickly as the farmland had not been fertilized in many years.
Equipment is a big expense and issue as well. With the growing popularity of hemp farming the manufacturers are not keeping up with demand. Hagan reported he cannot get the harvester he would like to have until 2020. In the interim, he is converting a corn harvester to take on the task.
At harvest, the grower has to be sure the chemical content of his product is within legal requirements. These are enforced by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer services. VDACS has the power to destroy a crop by burning if it deems the hemp is not in compliance.
The trio agreed there is an unprecedented amount of testing going on in the industry.
“It’s hard to find a processor for the crop,” Straw said.
Despite all these challenges Hagan and his team are excited about what they are doing and what they have to offer others. They have already heard stories of how it has changed the lives of some who have used CDB oil for relief from a variety of ailments and pains.
As the year progresses, Hagan and his team seem well-positioned to lead the field of hemp growers in Virginia.
7448 Matt Hagan, owner of Truharvestfarms, right, an organic hemp farm in Montgomery County, Va., and John Straw, head grower at the farm, survey the land being readied for the first planting. It will be the largest grower of industrial hemp in Virginia, the pair said.
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