University researching largest industrial hemp field in Virginia

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SHENANDOAH VALLEY, Va. (WHSV) -- Researchers at James Madison University are studying industrialized hemp in the Shenandoah Valley, looking at whether the crop can be grown using conventional agriculture.

WHSV is not permitted to disclose the location of the 10-acre hemp field Avery Powell visited on Thursday, which is the largest industrialized hemp field in Virginia.

JMU researchers gave a tour to community members and agricultural leaders on September 8, including Kai Degner, candidate for the 6th district in the House of Representatives. Researchers say that growing the crop using conventional methods would be more affordable for farmers.

"We're hoping, particularly, farmers who may have been involved in something like tobacco farming and are looking for alternatives, this may be a way to save small family farms, give them a healthy crop alternative," said Michael Renfroe, a biology professor at JMU involved with the study.

Instead of growing tobacco, he says let's grow hemp instead.

Industrialized hemp is categorized with marijuana as a schedule one controlled substance but differs in that it has a lower level of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Hemp can be used in food, to make oil, and even make clothes so Renfroe hopes new knowledge can help lift some heavy regulations for industrial production.

Hemp is not allowed to be commercially grown in the United States. State law does permit certain universities, like JMU, to grow the crop. So JMU researchers and the farmers involved went through extensive regulations to grow the hemp. These regulations are something Degner says need to go.

"Right now, we can get hemp products from China and Canada and we can eat them and we can import them but we can't grow them here and I think that's federal government, big government, being in the way of farms and jobs," said Kai Degner.

A representative from Congressman Bob Goodlatte's office did attend the September 8 tour, but could not comment at the time. Later in the day, Goodlatte's office provided the following statement through e-mail:

"There are many legitimate uses for industrial hemp, which is why I supported a provision to ensure entities like the Virginia state government and James Madison University have the ability to conduct research on industrial hemp without fear of violating federal law. Recently, I visited the farm of Glenn Rodes, who is a participant in Virginia's industrial hemp research program. The purpose of my visit was to learn more about the uses of industrial hemp and the growing process as well as discuss ways to increase research opportunities for this crop. I was happy to assist JMU and Mr. Rodes in getting the license for this research. I support these efforts to research the cultivation and production of industrial hemp, and I look forward to analyzing the results."