Halifax County’s hemp industry received an extra boost Tuesday afternoon after the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission awarded the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority a $250,000 grant for Project Phoenix, a proposed $6.6 million hemp processing facility.
Project Phoenix, according to the IDA’s grant application with the tobacco commission, is projected to purchase $50 million in hemp from Virginia’s farmers in just three years, with 41 direct employees and hundreds of ancillary jobs.
Halifax County IDA executive director Brian Brown declined to comment on the project.
But, Rebekah Slabach, agriculture and natural resource extension agent, called a hemp processing facility a “win” for the agriculture in county.
“It’s an opportunity to put Halifax County on the map and a hub in southern Virginia for hemp processing. With almost 25 growers last year raising 80 acres of hemp, we expect more interest in hemp production in the region now with this processing facility announcement. Having a processing facility in close proximity to hemp farms is a tremendous advantage to our producers in Halifax and the surrounding counties,” said Slabach.
She added, “Being connected with a contractor and processing facilities is very important for hemp producers. The addition of a hemp processing facility in Halifax will allow for processing hemp faster for producers that had a waiting game or had to travel long distances to transport their product.”
The proposed project calls for $2,100,000 in local matching funds and $4,250,000 in private funds.
According to the grant application, site and equipment were expected to be selected by the end of last year with facility construction completion and investment in extraction equipment completed by the end of 2020.
By the end of the year, 23 full-time employees are expected to be hired, and 432,000 pounds of hemp are expected to be purchased for production.
Hemp was legalized by the 2018 Farm Bill and has become the “fastest growing agricultural segment in the U.S. with 368 % growth in the past year as demand for CBD (cannabidiol) extract has multiplied.
“Virginia’s tobacco region is ideal for hemp cultivation, but has been hamstrung by lack of processing capacity to transform hemp into value-add products. To be price-competitive, farms must be located close to processing facilities,” the IDA’s application states.
The closet facility is in Oxford, North Carolina, leaving local growers needing a closer place to process their hemp.
In 2018, there were 85 growers registered in Virginia for 135 acres of hemp crop, and in 2019, that number of growers grew to over 1,000. Meanwhile Halifax County had 24 hemp growers in 2019 with 80 acres of crop.
While there are many uses for hemp, Project Phoenix would focus on hemp extraction products such as oils, tinctures, creams and salves.
It plans to “offer a wide range of health and food safety standards, organic and traceable sourcing and custom-specified chemical compositions.”
With purchasing crop from farmers, Project Phoenix plans to export to purchasers of extract giving farmers the chance to see over $30,000 per acre on investment of $12,000 per acre.
They also plan to leverage resources from Institute for Advanced Learning and Research for technical assistance and quality assurance, and will work with IALR and Virginia Tech to further research and farmer education.