Look closely before trying hemp, speaker stresses
WYTHEVILLE, Va. — Industrial hemp is getting a lot of attention from farmers about how to grow it but it can be an expensive and complicated farming project, one grower said.
David Munsee, a West Virginia hemp grower and consultant, led a wide ranging discussion of the potential and pitfalls for farmers who are considering growing the crop.
The Feb. 19 meeting, organized by Eric Crowgey, a Wythe County farmer and leader, and Matthew Miller, Wythe County Extension agent, attracted an about 150 farmers from Southwest Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia.
It was one of the first farm meetings to be held in the new APEX Center.
The 2018 Farm Bill established a new definition of hemp, removing it from the definition of marijuana in the federal Controlled Substances Act.
“The Farm Bill also establishes a regulatory framework for the commercial production of hemp and allows states wanting to have primary regulatory authority over the commercial production of hemp to submit for approval by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture a plan under which the state will monitor and regulate hemp production.
Discussion at the meeting revealed that a number of states are working to do this and have established individual rules, creating an overall confusion within the industry.
Interest in growing hemp is reportedly skyrocketing with talk of $60,000 an acre in gross revenue for growing it. Munsee was quick and emphatic in pointing out seed and fertilizer costs have to come out of this figure. He said seed alone would cost about $20,000 per acre. Then there are the other costs of putting a crop in the ground and growing it to harvest.
Industrial hemp also faces the many regulations of federal and state government dealing with cannabis including the need for a permit to grow it, who can legally buy and sell seeds, transportation to a processing facility, sensitivity to weather conditions and more.
Add to that consultant fees if someone such as Munsee who charges a hefty hourly fee is hired, lawyer fees, soil test costs, machinery and drying facilities expenses.
Crowgey who has been researching the pros and cons of growing industrial hemp said in a telephone interview after the meeting that it is a crop that has a very high risk and could have a very high return.
“So use caution,” he stressed. “Start small.”
“If you are serious about growing industrial, get a lawyer,” Munsee told the crowd.
Government regulation, both federal and state is another big factor. The whole crop can go up in smoke if it is ordered destroyed by inspectors who have found it exceeds the legal levels of certain chemicals.
Permits are required to begin growing the industrial hemp, Munsee said. In Virginia, these are issued by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Erin Williams, VDACS’ regulatory coordinator, has coordinated the agency’s work to oversee Virginia’s industrial hemp research since the enactment of the Virginia Industrial Hemp Law in 2015 and oversees the agency’s Industrial Hemp Grower License program. She can be reached at 904-786-7157 or email@example.com.
Munsee has had experience in the legal cannabis industry in both Oregon and California where he grew medical marijuana. Crowgey added Munsee has been growing industrial hemp in West Virginia for the past three years through his operation, Advanced Growers.
Munsee said the chemical differences within the cannabis group of plants.
He said industrial hemp is cannabis but it is not marijuana. He reported it is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, marijuana’s primary psychoactive compound. Industrial hemp is raised for its cannabidiol. At this time, it cannot be processed in Virginia. This raises questions about how it can be legally sold and transported to a processing plant and then be brought back to Virginia, Munsee said.
Finding a market for industrial hemp grown in Virginia is another issue for potential growers, Munsee said.
Munsee reported that industrial hemp has a very short growing season from abut June 1 to late September. Reports have to be in to VDACS by Oct. l.
He reviewed some of the facilities and equipment necessary for growing hemp. A tobacco planter will work, and a good drying barn is critical, he said.
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