Page County leaders discuss potential economic impact of hemp

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PAGE COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — Page County economic leaders are looking at the impact growing hemp could have on the county's economy.

Hemp growing at an undisclosed location in the Shenandoah Valley

Hemp can be used to create many things, including fiber, construction materials and automotive parts. It was also 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.

However, it has been largely banned since the 1930s. Hemp is classified as a schedule one controlled substance by the federal government. But while there is sometimes confusion between industrial hemp and marijuana, hemp has much lower amount of THC, the hallucinogen found in high amounts in marijuana.

In 2015, the Virginia General Assembly legalized hemp cultivation for research, including what has been done by James Madison University in the Shenandoah Valley and by Virginia Tech. Congressman Bob Goodlatte, who represents much of the Shenandoah Valley in the US House of Representatives, visited the JMU hemp farm in 2017. He has helped introduce the "Industrial Hemp Farming Act" to legalize production on the national level.

"We need to change the law and when we change the law, then I think this Valley and lots of other places in the country as well will become prime spots for growing hemp and getting it into the market in large quantities," said Goodlatte (R-6th District) in 2017.

Michael Renfroe, a biology professor at JMU involved with the study, is now looking for farmers who want to plant 10-acre test plots of hemp. It is something Page County economic leaders say could have a big impact.

"It can be a good cash crop," said Craig Lanceo, the Chairman of the Page County Economic Development Authority. "It has a huge potential for all kinds of uses and we're currently importing $11.5 million worth of hemp I think a year. It might be more than that, so there's a great market for it."

Glenn Rodes has been farming hemp for the past three years with JMU and believes the benefits are good.

"You can add into your farming system to go along with corn and soybeans that will have another market that we're not tapped into," said Rodes. "Things like fiber and also food will be one of the big markets early on where the seed can be used for food."

The Page County Economic Development Authority and the Page County Farmers Association hosted a free forum on hemp on Thursday at the Luray Fire House, which brought out many farmers who said they might be interested.

"You're always looking for some way that you might do a little extra with the land that you have," said farmer Eric Croft. "This may be one of those, who knows. "