Industrial hemp farmers in West Virginia more than quadrupled crop production in 2019 compared to the previous year, according to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.
This year, 132 farmers grew 641 acres of industrial hemp, according to Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt—a significant increase from the 155 acres grown in 2018.
“We must be doing something right in West Virginia for the number of growers and acreage to increase this dramatically," Leonhardt said. "In just a few years, we have gone from 24 growers, focused solely on research, to a thriving economic opportunity for our state.
“We want West Virginia to be known as an ideal location to tap into this emerging industry. Clearly, we are well on our way to that goal.”
Building on the success of 2019, the number of applicants for the 2020 growing season has more than doubled, he said.
As of October 1, 2019, 407 applications have been submitted for approval to the state's industrial hemp program, and officials say the number should increase as final submissions come into the department.
Leonhardt says he now hopes to grow the economy by establishing processing facilities within the state.
"The next step for us is to figure out is how to keep all this raw material being grown within our borders by converting the plant material into usable supplements, fibers, fuels, and other products," he said.
"To continue to develop this industry, we need to pair processors with producers.”
On December 20, 2018, President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which included a provision to legalize the commercial cultivation of industrial hemp.
The bill removed industrial hemp from the list of federally controlled substances while clarifying industrial hemp producers may participate in U.S. Department of Agriculture programs.
The USDA is expected to issue rules and guidelines sometime this fall. Oversight to regulate cultivation will continue to rest with individual state departments of agriculture upon approval by USDA. State pilot projects are to operate under existing rules until that time.