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VA: Hemp Supporters Laud The Crop, But Research Continues

Ron Strider

Well-Known Member
A group of farmers, local legislators and researchers came out to Virginia State University's Randolph Farm on Aug. 17 to learn about the possibilities of growing industrial hemp in the state.

Two years ago, the state authorized institutions of higher education to grow industrial hemp for research purposes. Virginia State University, James Madison University, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech have signed agreements with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences to conduct industrial hemp research through 2017.

Industrial hemp is an intriguing crop possibility for Virginia farmers. Craig Lee, former president of the Kentucky Hemp Growers Association, said at the field day that farmers should talk with their local representatives before thinking about planting the crop.

According to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, "Possession or cultivation of industrial hemp plant material or seeds is illegal in Virginia unless you have a grower's license and you are in possession of or cultivating industrial hemp as part of an industrial hemp research program."

"Industrial hemp is very complex ... . What makes it complex are the laws that govern it," Lee said. But the crop offers many possibilities, including using it as hemp oil.

"Hemp oil doesn't freeze ... I have tried," he said. "We could grow for bio-diesel."

Other parts of a hemp plant can be used for making things such as a boat, he said. Lee even recalled a house in 2014 that was built from hemp.

"Industrial hemp is a great insulator," he said.

Marty Phipps, owner of Old Dominion Hemp, said he has found success using industrial hemp for equine and animal bedding.

"You cannot smoke industrial hemp. Hemp is an industrial crop and that needs to be clear," Phipps said. "Voices need to be heard and it's more than saying 'I support this.' Reach out to your local representatives ... demand it be removed from that Controlled Substance Act."

Phipps started his business in 2015 and started selling to the public in April 2016.

"I brought 30 pounds of bedding to a horse show. I sold out and I couldn't believe it," he said.

Now he's worried that his business is "growing too fast," adding that Europe, where he gets his hemp from, may not have enough to meet his demand.

"A lot of money is being used for importing," he said, adding that he wants shop local for his industrial hemp. "Hemp can replace pine and once the horse is finished with it, hemp biodegrades faster. It is a healthier and better alternative."

Maru Kering, assistant professor at Virginia State, said researchers are looking at varieties from Europe and how quickly they can adapt to the local climate.

Kering said that a large pool of superior varieties exists in Europe and Canada, and that the state allowed for pilot studies to be conducted in 2015-16.

So why is hemp making a comeback now? Kering said that hemp is a multiuse crop with three harvestable parts: stalks, seed/grains and flowers/bracts.

The stalks, fiber and nonfiber, can be useful for many purposes including yarn, fabric and even superconductors. The nonfiber portion can be used as chip board, particle board, insulation or structural reinforcement.

The seed/grain has high oil content and is rich in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, Kering said. It is also high in protein and has a balanced amino acid profile, which is not only good for the human diet, but the residual protein-rich cake can be used for animal feed and supplementation.

The flower/bracts are rich in cannabinoids, Kering said. Cannabidiol (CBD) has been used for pharmaceutical and medical use.

The roots of the plant have proven to be useful, too.

"The roots can be used to clean the soil. It helps improve soil porosity, water filtration and water reserve for the next crop," he said.

At Virginia State, researchers are taking a look at planting dates, fertilizer and varieties of the plant.

Kering said that the first planting date study implemented in mid-April found that soil temperatures are too cold to plant at that time, seed germination is low and emergence is also low.

"Mid-April is too early because of the excess rainfall. Poor drainage can kill the seedling," he said.

The second planting date was at the end of April and early May. Kering said there was better seed emergence and, overall, a more vibrant plant and improved air temperature.

The third planting date was early to late May, which he said was a good planting period.

The fourth planting date, in early June, also saw good seedling emergence, which was dependent on soil moisture, but the weed competition was very high.

The fifth planting date was in mid-June. Kering said that seedling emergence depended on good soil moisture. He also said higher temperatures resulted in more dry conditions and that weed competition was high.

Overall, Kering said that the preliminary planting date study found that mid-April was too early and that early to late May was good, but mid-June may be a little too late, he said, although some varieties may tolerate unfavorable conditions in early spring.

Kering said there were production challenges. He said that successful weed control was necessary along with proper drainage. Pests – mites, beetles and wild birds – were also an issue.

Although more work needs to be done, Kering said the preliminary tests found that "foreign-developed varieties can be produced here, weed management is paramount for a successful crop, planting in midspring (May) gives a better crop, the crop host is susceptible to a number of pests and grain loss from wild birds is significant.



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Brinna

New Member
I am missing the usual last line or variant thereof: "While the study is promising, researchers say it will be many years before a definitive hemp agriculture program can be established."
 
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