Farming Hemp: The New Cash Crop

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Whether you’re a farmer in Virginia or elsewhere in the US, hemp is becoming increasingly profitable across the country as it becomes easier for farmers to legally grow. Industrial hemp has so many uses, and more and more uses are being discovered regularly as increased legalization efforts make research easier. From textiles to bioplastics to a new plant-based source of protein, hemp is an amazing plant that has all kinds of uses – and an incredibly high demand! Virginia farmers looking to diversify their crops and break into new markets should consider whether their land is suitable for planting industrial hemp. Virginia’s moderate climate is ideal for hemp farming, so consider whether your farm would benefit from planting the market’s newest cash crop!

Where Can Farmers Get Hemp Seeds?

Most farmers in Virginia and other US states opt to buy hemp seed from Canada and Europe. Farmers need to watch out for the THC limit where they live. While there is a lot of hemp seed available worldwide, it can be tricky to determine which seeds are actually legal based on their THC at harvest. This is a very important aspect to pay attention to, because any hemp crops that exceed the legal THC limit (0.3% TCH) will be classified as marijuana and will have to be destroyed. Additionally, hemp seeds from areas at a very different longitude or latitude from your farm may not be as successfully acclimated to your farm’s climate. It’s also important to ensure that the seeds are properly feminized so that farmers aren’t growing male plants. 

How is Hemp Grown?

While CBD plants are tended to as separate plants, hemp is grown more similarly to wheat and other crops that are grown and harvested on an industrial scale. Traditional hemp that is grown on an industrial scale for the mass market is planted much more densely than CBD plants. About 400,000 hemp plants are planted in each acre, which works out to about 100 plants per square meter. Hemp is planted much like wheat, with farmers using machinery to drill the seeds into the ground. Once the hemp plants are fully grown, farmers harvest the tops of the crops to produce seeds for future harvests. Then the hemp stalk is cut down to be used to produce whatever product the hemp is being used for. Hemp doesn’t require high-quality soil — just a good supply of water and nutrients — so farmers could potentially plant hemp in areas that other crops wouldn’t survive.

Choosing Between Traditional Hemp and CBD

“CBD” is the newest craze, with many stores selling legal CBD as a dietary supplement, a painkiller, and for insomnia. CBD is an oil that is extracted from female plants. These CBD plants are different from marijuana plants because of the amount of THC they contain. CBD plants have virtually no THC, making them legal to grow even where growing marijuana is illegal. CBD plants have a very high profit margin right now, and this is unlikely to change anytime soon due to the popularity of CBD products. The demand for CBD continues to skyrocket as more and more uses for the extract are discovered. 

So which should farmers focus on? While CBD is definitely a great option, hemp is likely preferable for established farmers who are already set up for traditional farming, since CBD plants are tended to very differently. Industrial hemp is grown through mainstream agricultural methods that farmers can use their existing equipment for. Hemp also has huge potential that continues to be unlocked by scientists as it becomes easier to grow legally. Industrial hemp is a fantastic source of building materials, food, feed for livestock, and even an environmentally-sound source of fuel. With so many uses already and an increasing focus on environmental sustainability, the demand for hemp will continue to grow. 

Hemp’s Legal Status in Virginia

To grow hemp in Virginia, you need a VDACS-issued Industrial Hemp Grower Registration. Virginia farmers should note that as of 2021, they do not need a USDA-issued Hemp License. Additional information about growing hemp will be available from the VDACS in spring of 2021. While hemp and marijuana are related, they aren’t the same and they have different legal statuses in Virginia and at the federal level. In order to be classified as hemp (rather than marijuana), the strains must contain less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC in the flowers by dry weight. Different strains of hemp have different amounts of other chemicals like CBD. The concentration of these other chemicals is not regulated the same way as the level of THC, and farmers don’t need to be concerned about these levels when choosing seeds. 

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