Monday, May 23, 2016
Hemp seeds arrive in Wood County
By Paul LaPann
VIENNA - The seeds being planted in Wood County may someday reap a harvest of economic opportunities.
The state Department of Agriculture recently delivered hemp seeds for industrial use to Jim Leach, who will plant them on his property in Vienna along the Ohio River. Dave Hawkins, owner of Mother Earth Foods in Parkersburg, is scheduled to receive hemp seeds from the state in the near future to plant on a half acre of his property in Wood County.
Leach and Hawkins are among the members of the West Virginia Hemp Farmers Cooperative who have been approved by the state to plant hemp seeds in a research project, said J. Morgan Leach, Jim's son and executive director of the farmers cooperative.
The hemp seed planting moved forward this year after Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a bill that would have prevented individuals from growing industrial hemp for research projects.
It took two years to create the rules governing the hemp-growing project, state officials said. Applicants must pass background checks before being licensed to participate in the state project.
The industrial hemp can be used as food, fiber and supplements, said Chris Ferro, chief of staff for West Virginia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick. Other uses of industrial hemp are for clothing and as a building material.
J. Morgan Leach said hemp can be used to make paper, fabrics, rope, cosmetics and plastics.
"Hemp canvas covered the wagons that settled America, and was named the next billion dollar crop by Popular Science Magazine in 1938 before it was officially outlawed," J. Morgan Leach said.
Jim Leach, an attorney, is interested in the manufacturing prospects for hemp.
"We have significant unused industrial/warehousing capacity and infrastructure that is available for use for the production of hemp products," he said. Leach has a 30-by-90 foot plot for growing three varieties of hemp seeds.
Hawkins said his main interest is in the medicinal aspects of hemp. Studies have shown the effectiveness in using the oils from certain hemp seeds to treat pain and other maladies, he said.
But first research must be conducted on the West Virginia hemp project.
The state Department of Agriculture will test the hemp grown here to ensure the levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary intoxicant in marijuana) in the crop are below the federally mandated 0.3 percent.
The state Department of Agriculture will work with law enforcement officials to let them know where the legally grown hemp is located, Ferro said. The hemp looks like marijuana but doesn't have the same THC component, he said.
The West Virginia research project has received six varieties of hemp seeds from Italy and Canada, J. Morgan Leach said. The trial will determine which varieties perform best with the state's climate and soil, he said.
West Virginia's laws for hemp development have been on the books since 2002, but regulatory rules were not written until last year after the Federal Farm Bill authorized research cultivation across the country, said J. Morgan Leach, a recent graduate of West Virginia University College of Law.
J. Morgan Leach said his goal through the farmers cooperative is education, training and getting a supply chain of hemp up and running.
Ferro and J. Morgan Leach have visited with Department of Agriculture officials in Kentucky where hemp growing is "taking off," Leach said.
This is believed to be the first time hemp has been planted legally in West Virginia since World War II.
"This is a pretty cool idea," said Hawkins, saying hemp production is an interesting project for West Virginia as a commodity crop to help the state's economy.
J. Morgan Leach said veterans and former coal miners could become involved in hemp production.
Although the hemp focus is now on the research side, the Department of Agriculture wants to assist in future market and product development and the plant being used for remediation of the land, Ferro said.
Ferro said the department hopes the project develops into hemp processing plants opening in West Virginia.
West Virginia could capitalize on a global shortage of hemp and the absence of a seed source in the United States, Ferro said.
In cooperation with the West Virginia Hemp Farmers Cooperative efforts, West Virginia University is conducting hemp research studies on an organic farm and in a greenhouse, J. Morgan Leach said.
To follow the progress of the West Virginia Hemp Farmers Cooperative visit wordpress.wvhfc.org or go to the farmers cooperative on Facebook.