Hemp growth is yielding mixed results for Halifax County farmers in its first year of production.
The farming of hemp, the fiber of the cannabis plant, was legalized in 2018. The growing season for hemp is similar to the tobacco season, running May through August/ September.
“This is a brand new crop,” said Rebekah Slabach, agriculture and natural resource extension agent. “It went better than we were expecting overall. The majority of farmers broke even.”
Halifax County had 24 hemp growers with 80 acres of crops this past year. Slabach said the county is expecting more growers next year.
Growing hemp this past year was a profitable venture for Buffalo Junction famer Charles Nelson. He planted 25 acres of hemp this past year.
“It went very well. It was better than I thought it would be,” Nelson said. Nelson planted Suver-Haze, Lifter, Sweetened, Midwest and Baox hemo.
He plans to continue to grow hemp and has some advice for farmers thinking about growing hemp for the first time.
“The main thing is to find a market that you know is going to pay you on a certain day,” Nelson said.
Ralph Tuck, a Virgilina farmer who planted eight acres of hemp last year, had another word of advice for farmers interested in getting involved in the hemp industry.
“Proceed with caution,” Tuck said. “It’s a new industry. It’s having growing pains. The infrastructure is not completely in place.”
He added that he hopes a recent grant awarded to Halifax County will provide a “stable, dependable processor” for the local hemp market for farmers. The county recently was awarded a $250,000 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission to establish a local hemp processor (see related story).
“That project could mean Halifax County being a central hub in Southern VA with hemp production,” Slabach said.
Tuck said he believes hemp is a “fit for this area (Halifax County)” because of the county’s history of tobacco farming.
An experienced tobacco farmer himself, Tuck said tobacco farmers are in a good position to grow hemp because they already have the necessary machinery and equipment.
Tuck explained there are two main methods of growing hemp – the seed method, growing plants from seeds, and the clone method.
He found the clone method — making cuttings from “mother plants” and planting them in the fields — to be the most profitable because it creates a “more stable genetic pool to work with.”
Using the seed method, all male plants (50%) must be discarded, Tuck elaborated.
Tuck noted that his farm, which is USDA certified organic, would provide plants to farmers in the area interested in getting involved in the hemp industry.
In addition to growing methods and having a dependable processor, Slabach listed other factors affecting the profitability of last year’s hemp harvest: the range in cost of hemp types, whether the hemp was grown for fiber, grain or CBD oil, and pest and disease issues causing loss of crops.