Hemp applications grow in West Virginia

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia agriculture officials say the number of farmers planning to grow hemp and the amount of land they propose to use continues to climb.

Hemp growing at an undisclosed location in the Shenandoah Valley

News outlets reports the Agriculture Department announced the increase Tuesday, saying the number of licenses issued to farmers has increased from 46 last year to 158 this year. The agency says the amount of acreage farmers plan to use for cultivation also saw a steep increase, from 155 acres (63 hectares) last year to 1,532 acres (620 hectares) this year.

West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt said in a statement that farmers are excited to tap into the new crop.

Although state lawmakers took action in 2017 to allow industrial hemp cultivation, the 2018 Federal Farm Bill removed hemp from the list of federally controlled substances.

One of those farmers is Mike Weaver, a Pendleton County man who used to grow poultry for Pilgrim's Pride, but made the switch to growing hemp after years without a raise. You can hear his story in a WHSV-exclusive here.

Historically, hemp was one of the earliest grown crops in our area, serving as a cash crop for many farmers centuries ago, when hemp was necessary to create rigging for ships. Many of the founding fathers, including George Washington, grew hemp.

But in the 20th century, it was classified as a schedule one controlled substance due to its nearly identical genetic structure to marijuana, though hemp has far less THC than its psychedelic cousin.

Since the Farm Bill passed, hemp and its derived products are now legal on a federal level once again, and it's booming across the country. Uses for hemp include thousands of products, like rope, oils, clothes, fibers similar to plastic, food and more.