Board backs hemp bills

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County leaders on Tuesday endorsed measures to legalize industrialized hemp.

The Board of Supervisors voted 6-0 to adopt a resolution of support for the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015.

Vice Chairman Richard Walker said the Virginia General Assembly already passed legislation in support of industrial hemp production. Walker noted that the crop is not to be confused with marijuana. Hemp contains far less amounts of THC, the chemical found in marijuana. Hemp also isn’t grown like marijuana.

“In fact, one of the opponents of legalized, industrial hemp is the marijuana industry because cross-pollination basically destroys that THC psychoactive advocate of marijuana,” Walker said. “In my studies, I don’t know that this will be a boon to Shenandoah County.”

A desire to allow farmers the ability to grow hemp exists, Walker said. He expressed concern that Virginia lags behind other states such as North Carolina and Kentucky in supporting industrialized hemp.

“But I think this is merely something that’s a question of freedom,” Walker said.

The legislation currently sits in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate and a congressional report has been conducted that shows support for industrial hemp, Walker said. The vice chairman added that he would like to see the county go on record as supporting the practice.

District 1 Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese said he would like to see farmers have a chance to diversify.

“I’m a little hesitant and I don’t think it’s been investigated enough as far as markets, processing and so forth,” Neese said.

District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz said she agreed with Walker, noting that the agricultural community needs the opportunity to move forward with industrial hemp production.

District 2 Supervisor Steven A. Baker said he would support the resolution.

“The bottom line is the agriculture is so expensive for equipment and, for someone to go out and grow it even on a small scale, they’ve got to be able to have the needs to plant, harvest, etc., etc., and this doesn’t come at a cheap cost,” said Baker, who operates a hog farm in the county. “And then you’ve got to say what’s my market at the end of the day and the way agriculture is it’s high-dollar investment. I don’t think you’ll see people running to the bank where the bankers are going to be, I guess, very cautious about loaning money out for a new endeavor like this when there are so many uncertainties.”

District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey pointed out that the resolution would help kick off industrial hemp farming in the state.

“One of the first steps to opening up the possibilities of it is this resolution and take government out of the way in terms of that,” Bailey said. “It’s giving the farmers the opportunity.”

The board spent more than an hour at its work session last Thursday hearing from several experts on industrial hemp production. Shruntz started to mention part of the discussion pertaining to the cost to modify existing equipment necessary to harvest industrial hemp. Baker pointed out that farmers interested in harvesting the crop would still need to come up with a business plan to present to a lender in order to obtain the money required to modify the equipment. Shruntz said she agreed with Baker. Walker also said he agreed with Baker but noted that some farmers he’s talked to have indicated they can’t create business plans or look at markets until the federal government allows them to harvest industrial hemp. Passage of the hemp bill would remove a barrier to production, Walker said.

Chairman Conrad Helsley said industrialized hemp has a long way to go toward becoming a regular practice even if the legislation is passed. In addition to equipment modification, more studies are needed to see how well hemp could grow in the valley, Helsley said, noting that peanuts are not harvested in the region.

“There’s a tremendous amount of research that needs to be looked at before we really get on a roll where you can even get close to a business plan,” Helsley said. “But, at this time, I don’t see any reason not to vote for the resolution to move forward and we’ll just have to see what happens.”

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com