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Bill would allow farmers to tap into industrial hemp market

From staff reports • May 5, 2018 at 8:30 PM

RICHMOND — The American Farm Bureau Federation is backing a measure that would allow U.S farmers to tap into the hemp market — a potentially sizeable market for ingredients derived from industrial hemp.

Industrial hemp can be found in foods and beverages; cosmetics and personal care products; nutritional supplements; fabric and textiles; and many more items.

“We can certainly grow industrial hemp in Virginia. The question is, ‘Can it been grown profitably?’ ” asked Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “The answer will depend on future hemp demand from existing and future hemp products and their uses and the domestic infrastructure costs necessary to convert bulk hemp fiber or seed to a useable intermediary or final product. Currently, industrial hemp’s designation as a Schedule 1 controlled substance is a major stumbling block to answering that question.”

The Hemp Farming Act of 2018, S.B. 2667, would remove hemp’s designation as a Schedule 1 controlled substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

For nearly 70 years, industrial hemp has been wrongly associated with its cannabis cousin, marijuana, according to the AFBF, and as such, a great deal of agricultural heritage in hemp seed genetics, crop research and technological innovation has been hindered or lost entirely.

The Congressional Research Service reported that the U.S. is the only major industrialized country in which farmers cannot legally grow industrial hemp, yet is the largest importer of hemp materials, with sales exceeding $600 million.

With the passage of the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill, and under the supervision of research universities or state departments of agriculture, states were able to “study the growth, cultivation or marketing of industrial hemp.” As of December 2017, Virginia Tech, James Madison University, the University of Virginia and Virginia State University were conducting research on the crop.

“I think hemp has a lot of potential in the state, to be used for fiber or to be used for grain or even to be used for pharmaceuticals,” said Dr. John Fike, an associate professor of crop and soil environmental science who is conducting hemp research at several of Virginia Tech’s Agricultural Research and Extension Centers. “But it’s one thing to be able to grow it; it’s another thing to be able to sell this crop. We really don’t have well-developed markets that can take this crop.”

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