Hemp research received a $125,000 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission Revitalization Committee when they met Tuesday.
Halifax County had requested the $125,000 grant to go toward a $250,000 Industrial Hemp Research and Extension Program at Virginia Tech’s Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Blackstone.
It also requires $125,000 in matching funds including $93,750 from the county and $31,250 from in-kind funding from Virginia Tech.
Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are planning programs to address the research and extension needs of hemp growers in Virginia, and these grant funds are intended to provide the initial funding necessary to deliver these programs.
As a new crop for Virginia farmers, the county recognizes the risks associated with hemp production and come with high production costs, varied recommendations for cultural practices, unknown pests with limited pest control options, unfamiliar harvest and post-harvest handling requirements, a new regulatory environment and a presently unsettled marking system, as stated in the county’s grant application to the commission.
Halifax County had 24 hemp growers in 2019 with 80 acres of crop, but Rebekah Slabach, agriculture and natural resource extension agent in Halifax, anticipates more growers next year.
“2019 was the first year of hemp grown in Halifax County, which also had its fair share of challenges. The majority of producers grew less than 5 acres in 2019, a few up to 10 acres and some even less than an acre. As we know more about management and the crop, producers are more inclined to renew their licenses and expand acreage,” said Slabach.
With these programs, they hope to address the needs and concerns of local hemp farmers.
“These efforts are to assist with research and recommendations in studying how the crop should be grown and marketed - including addressing needs such as pest management,” she added.
A goal for this project is to attract hemp buyers, processors and product manufacturers by having research and education programs to support hemp growers and to develop a yearly grower base capable of reliable production.
By the end of December 2021, Eastern Shore Agriculture Research and Extension Center and Southwest Virginia Agriculture Research and Extension Centers plan to conduct hemp production field days to provide growers and industry representatives first-hand access to production research trials.