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Federal Hemp Survey Could Help Lack of Info in Virginia

This Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 photo shows hemp plants in a field at the University of Virginia Wise in Wise, Va., 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Steve Helber/AP
This Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 photo shows hemp plants in a field at the University of Virginia Wise in Wise, Va., 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Virginia legalized small amounts of marijuana this July, but hemp, which comes from the same plant, has been regulated in the state since 2015. The USDA is asking farmers about their hemp crops for the first time nationwide. The survey could give valuable data to hemp farmers who lack information and for investors looking to build infrastructure for the burgeoning industry.

According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer services there were 891 registered industrial hemp growers as of August 31st. For the 2020 growing year there were 1,091, and about half of those submitted planting reports.

“I think that we likely are producing more than we think we're producing,” said Erin Williams, who manages VDACS’ industrial hemp program. The program issues registrations to industrial hemp growers, processors, and dealers. It also tests hemp for THC content. “We're hopeful that people that we don't hear from maybe the USDA will hear from and so we'll get a better picture of what's going on in Virginia.”

The Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will conduct the survey, mailing questionnaires to 20,500 hemp producers nationwide.

“The information collected can help inform producers’ decisions about growing, harvesting, and selling hemp as well as the type of hemp they decide to produce,” said NASS Acting Administrator Kevin Barnes in a press release.

How many people are growing how much hemp is important for infrastructure for the nascent industry. Hemp needs to be processed before it can go into things like textiles or oil for CBD products.

“Someone who's considering processing or investing in processing would use the kind of data that will be available after USDA survey results are out in order to make decisions about where they're going to place processing facilities,” Williams said.

Darryl Moran runs Virginia Cannabis Services, which helps hemp growers develop their business. He says the lack of information can be damaging to farmers and that more processing facilities and marketing opportunities are needed. Sometimes new entrants to the industry have to destroy their product, he said.

“Some of them that are a year later, just turning it into the burn pile. They have no idea where to take it.”

Moran says that hemp growers plots vary from small-scale to five acres, but in his experience mid-sized growers are the ones who succeed in the market. The USDA survey will gather information on the size of hemp farms, as well as how much crop that land can yield. Surveys start being mailed out on October 18th.

Moran said that he assumes most growers will want to participate in the survey.

“They would want in on this...they want to share information about what they put in, what they got out,” he said. “They want some recognition on how much effort it takes to not only do the product, but also to produce the product but also to remain compliant."

In Virginia there are limits on the amount of THC that industrial hemp can contain. Virginia's laws will be updated in 2022 to match federal regulations.

The 2018 farm bill defines hemp as any part of the Cannabis plant with a THC content of 0.3% or less.

Survey results will be released on February 17, 2022.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Jahd Khalil is a reporter and producer in Richmond.
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