Analyst briefs VDACS board on hemp

A senior policy analyst briefed the Virginia Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services last week about the progress of research on industrial hemp in Virginia.

Erin Williams, senior policy analyst with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, recapped the first growing season of industrial hemp at James Madison University, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University. According to her, the universities missed the boat as far as getting their hemp seeds in the ground.

“Everyone decided that June was pretty late to get the seed in the ground,” she said in a follow-up interview. “The consensus is planting in late May and mid-June is too late.”

Williams said each university has a specific research goal, and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services put out a request for proposals for further research.

She specified that James Madison University is researching whether or not farmers can successfully use traditional farm equipment in the cultivation of hemp, along with how hemp can be used as a bio-fuel.

Likewise, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University are doing agronomy trials to determine what crop varieties do best with which fertilizers and treatments, along with how the soil responds to the hemp.

The department is still accepting proposals through August from universities for research in the 2017 growing season.

At the moment, hemp, which is commonly associated with the cannabis sativa plant, is illegal at a federal level. However, Williams said that should the government decide to legalize hemp in any capacity, Virginia will be ready with legal framework to move forward.

“We’re ready to set up a licensure program for commercial growth if and when the federal law changes,” she said.

Hemp production has been illegal at the federal and state level because of hemp’s association with marijuana. Hemp carries trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, which is a Schedule I drug, the highest level of illegality as per the Drug Enforcement Agency’s standards.

Following the meeting, Williams said the board seemed excited and interested in the path forward for the crop’s precarious legal existence under Virginia law.

“They were all interested in this new program and that they had the opportunity to see hemp growing at the (Virginia State) University on the following day,” Williams said. “They were all intrigued by this opportunity.”

For more information on the current legal status of legal cultivation of industrial hemp in Virginia, see The Northern Virginia Daily’s previous coverage at http://tiny.cc/am17cy.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com