First Virginia Hemp Crop in Decades Harvested

hemp in Virginia
Hidden behind rows of corn in one of his fields, Virginia farmer Glenn Rodes grew a small plot of hemp this year, which was harvested this past September. Hemp, which was once a critical crop in Virginia and across the south, was outlawed as part of the war on drugs in the 1930’s.

Though it is freely grown in many other countries and used in a number of consumer products, hemp vanished as a result of its relationship to its potent cousin, cannabis sativa. Some of the many uses of industrial hemp include plastics, injection molding, rope and twine. One of the most popular uses of hemp these days, however, is as a health supplement.

hemp-harvestNot only are various parts of the hemp plant very nutritious, but hemp also produces a chemical called cannabidiol, or CBD. CBD has been discovered to have many positive health benefits, including treatment of seizures, spasticity, pain and sleep issues. Having been bred over many generations for its industrial uses, hemp has vastly lower concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive compound that makes marijuana a recreational drug, than marijuana does.

“There is a 70-year stigma that has been attached to it, but (hemp) is not a drug,” said Rodes, who, along with several other family members, operates a diversified, 900-acre crop and livestock farm started by his father in 1949.

In addition to other industrial uses, one of the main reasons Rodes wanted to grow hemp was to make biofuels, which will run his farm equipment.

The Rodes farm is among several early participants in a research program that many say could lead to a revival of the crop. A movement is underway to remove legal barriers to the cultivation of hemp, though it remains under tight regulation for now, and it is unclear to what extent full commercialization might happen.

In the 2014 farm bill, Congress allowed state departments of agriculture to license the growing of industrial hemp for research purposes.

With the change in federal law, 30 states, including Virginia, then passed legislation authorizing their own hemp research programs. Virginia passed its legislation in 2015.

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