Legalizing hemp could be a huge boost for Valley farmers

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ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — Congress passed the Farm Bill yesterday, and one piece of that legislation legalizes industrial hemp. One local farm says it's something farmers in the Shenandoah Valley have been wanting for years.

Hemp growing at an undisclosed location in the Shenandoah Valley

Glenn Rodes has been growing hemp for research at James Madison University for three years. Now, he has the chance to grow it for himself. Rodes says growing hemp isn't new to Virginia, but it's been illegal for quite a few years.

"It'll be new to our generation, and that's something really interesting," Rodes said.

Historically, hemp was one of the earliest grown crops in the Shenandoah Valley, serving as a cash crop for many farmers centuries ago, when hemp was necessary to create rigging for ships. But in the 20th century, it was classified as a schedule one controlled substance due to its nearly identical genetic structure to marijuana.

While hemp may look similar to its psychedelic cousin, it can't get you high though — hemp has much less THC.

Now that the farm bill has passed Congress, Rodes says he's excited about the opportunity to add it to the crops grown on his farm one President Trump signs the bill into law.

"Few times in your life can you get in on something that's almost new," Rodes said. "So it's exciting to be able to help bring it back and be involved in producing it."

The bill also affects research into the plant. Samuel Morton, an associate professor of engineering at JMU, has been working with hemp. He says the bill brings them new possibilities.

"It opens up doors that weren't really available before, partly for federal funding, because it was a schedule I substance," Morton said. "It made it more difficult to actually engage with other federal agencies."

Rodes says hemp has a lot of different revenue options since it can be used in a variety of different ways. He hopes that will benefit his personal farm and the next generation.

"We have nephews here on the farm, and I'm hoping that by adding another crop, another way to make money, that it will actually benefit the next generation more than the current generation."

Uses for hemp include thousands of products, like rope, oils, clothes, fibers similar to plastic, food and more. Congressman Bob Goodlatte has been supporting its legalization to help Valley farmers for several years now.

The bill is on the way to President Trump's desk, and he's expected to sign it.