Hemp seen as replacement crop for tobacco in Virginia

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Jason Amatucci is Founder and Executive Director of the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition. A graduate of the University of Georgia, he holds a degree in political science and certificate in global studies. He is also owner of Virginia Boxwood Company, caretaker for thousands of large boxwood shrubs at historic and university sites throughout Virginia. He serves on the National Hemp Association’s advisory council.

HempToday: VIHC was instrumental in getting Virginia’s Hemp Farming Act passed last year. What’s happened since the law went into effect?
Jason Amatucci: Our Department of Agriculture got right on to putting out a request for proposals for Virginia universities. Three universities applied and three were approved: Virginia Tech, Virginia State University and James Madison University. The only school to work with private farmers is James Madison University. Two VIHC members will be the first two farmers to grow industrial hemp in Virginia in over 70 years this spring.

HT: Where will seed come from for the trials? And what is VHIC’s position regarding certified seeds vs. non-certified?
JA: The seed will come from Canada and Europe. Right now certified industrial hemp seeds are required by law. In the future when the laws change, certification may not be necessary. We really  need to research the feral hemp seed growing in Virginia and Kentucky. Their genetics of growing and surviving wild year after year in our soils and climate is important to breeding the perfect grain and fiber varieties for our region.

HT: How would you describe the attitudes about hemp among VA farmers? What’s the key to convincing them to plant hemp?
JA: The attitudes of farmers regarding industrial hemp are very cautious. They have been around the block with new crops promising to be lucrative. Farming involves lots of risk. Our farmers must proceed with caution. It’s going to take 2-3 years just for our farmers to get comfortable with growing and harvesting hemp. There will be a learning curve. The industry will take time to get to the proper scale needed for processing plants to be efficient. That is why it’s imperative we don’t have any more delays getting Virginia farmers experience growing this cash crop.

HT: Can you talk about hemp as potential replacement crop for tobacco?
JA: Thomas Jefferson noted that the soils and climate of Virginia, while good for tobacco also were great for hemp. This is an important point. As tobacco farming has declined in Virginia we see industrial hemp coming in to to help by giving the farmers in tobacco farming areas another cash crop to grow. It also will create new industry and processing plants to help offset the job losses from Philip Morris and other tobacco companies in our state.

HT: What are VIHC goals for 2016?
JA: We’ll continue our education campaign across the state and we will work hard to get industrial hemp legal so that as soon as the federal government removes industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act we will be ready to plant the following spring without delays, and businesses will invest knowing Virginia is ready and open for business with proper legal footing to proceed.

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