VSU To Host Public Field Day On Industrial Hemp

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  August 11, 2017 

Contact: Michelle Olgers, Marketing & Communications Dept., 804-524-6964, molgers@vsu.edu

 

VSU To Host Public Field Day On Industrial Hemp

Thursday, August 17

Industrial hemp, a crop with a long and storied history in Virginia, is the subject of an August 17 public field day at Virginia State University (VSU). This first-of-its kind event will provide a forum for potential producers, researchers, marketing experts and processing industry professionals to discuss the production and economic potential of this crop. The discussions will be useful to Virginia farmers who may decide to grow industrial hemp if legislation changes to make it legal again to do so.

 

In 2015, Virginia lawmakers authorized the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) to enter into a memorandum of understanding with universities within the commonwealth to grow industrial hemp for research purposes. As a result, Virginia State University, Virginia Tech and James Madison University are currently conducting industrial hemp research that will position the state to provide the necessary information farmers will need to successfully grow the crop should it once again be legalized.

 

Meanwhile, the popularity of industrial hemp-made products soars. Currently all industrial hemp products sold in the U.S., including food, personal care products, clothing and even construction materials, are imported to the U.S. from Canada, China, Europe and other countries where the crop is legal.

 

Industrial hemp (Cannnabis sativa L.) is botanically related to marijuana, but with very different properties. While marijuana is rich with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component that makes pot a drug of choice by many, hemp contains only the smallest traces of THC (<0.3%), making it virtually impossible to get high from. But it does produce strong fibers, and the seed has good quality oil that once made it a cash crop for America.

 

Fiber-type varieties are used mainly for production of fiber that has multiple applications in the textile industry for yarns and fabrics, sail ropes and canvas. The remaining plant parts are used for industrial applications including paper, building material reinforcement, insulation material, bio-energy and more. Hemp seed is also valuable. It contains high quality oil currently used in the food, pharmaceutical, medical and cosmetic industries. The seed has a high protein content with a balanced amino acid profile and is used in human dietary supplements. Left-over cake material from oil extraction is a rich protein source used as an animal food supplement.

 

In fact, hemp fiber was so important to our young nation that colonial farmers were often mandated to grow it. The Declaration of Independence is said to have been drafted on hemp paper, and our nation’s victory in the American Revolution can in many ways be attributed to the patriots’ use of hemp in making their ships’ sails, rope, riggings and more. George Washington grew it, and Thomas Jefferson bred improved hemp varieties. Abraham Lincoln also used hemp seed oil to fuel his household lamps. During World War II, the USDA developed a “Hemp for Victory”

film to encourage everyone to grow the crop to support the war effort. The fibers were used for parachutes, rope, shoes, clothes and more.

 

But during the mid part of the last century, strict legislation was passed that made it illegal to grow this versatile crop in the U.S., largely due to its relationship to its high-THC relative, marijuana. As a result, cultivars that once thrived across the country have been lost or remained unimproved, and no significant work has been done on production techniques and variety developments. Previous processing facilities collapsed and market availability that once drove production and supply has ceased to exist.

 

“So in many respects, it’s like starting from scratch,” said lead researcher on the project, Dr. Maru Kering. “We are now growing seeds that have been developed in Europe and elsewhere in a screening exercise to determine varieties adaptable to our soils and climatic conditions.”

 

He explained that it is a learning process to figure out each variety’s performance and potential problems, like weed and pest infestations. “Having such data will be important in developing production management guidelines for Virginia producers to facilitate high yields in the future, if and when industrial hemp becomes legal to grow again in the commonwealth,” Kering added.

 

The Industrial Hemp Field Day is being hosted by the university’s Agricultural Research Station (ARS), part of the university’s College of Agriculture. The ARS is responsible for carrying out the land-grant university’s mission of conducting scientific agriculture and food production research that will increase profitability for Virginia’s small, part-time and limited-resource farmers. Land-grant initiatives such as these help support and grow Virginia’s $91 billion agriculture and forest industry.

 

The event is free and open to the public. It will be held 8 a.m. to noon, Thursday, August 17, at VSU’s Randolph Farm, 4414 River Road, Petersburg, VA. Participants should register by visiting www.ext.vsu.edu/calendar, and clicking on the event.

 

For more information or if you are a person with a disability and desire any assistive devices, services or other accommodations to participate in this activity, please contact Agricultural Research Station at lmorris@vsu.edu or (804) 524-5151 / TDD (800) 828-1120 during business hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to discuss accommodations five (5) days prior to the event.

 

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