For the 2019 growing season, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture issued 158 individual licenses under the industrial hemp program.
This included 71 applicants who marked processing as part of their submission. The proposed total acreage to be grown by licensees is 2,531.
During the 2019 application period, the state Department of Agriculture saw a 300 percent increase in applicants for the industrial hemp program versus the previous year. In 2018, West Virginia licensed 46 industrial hemp growers who grew roughly 155 acres of crop.
“This increased interest is largely due to legislation that was passed by the West Virginia Legislature in 2017, which allows cultivation of industrial hemp for commercial purposes and a growing national interest,” according to a news release from the department.
This is the second growing season under the new law.
“It is obvious West Virginia farmers are excited to tap into this new, legal cash crop,” West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt said in the release. “It is great to see a large majority of applicants have shown some interest in becoming a processor. Taking raw materials and adding value to them will help West Virginia’s industry thrive.”
On Dec. 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.
“We are still in a holding pattern until more federal guidelines are released this fall, but at least we know West Virginia is ahead of the game on this emerging industry,” Leonhardt said. “We will update our law to respond to any changes in policy or regulation from our federal partners once more information is released.”
Oversight to regulate cultivation will continue to rest with individual state departments of agriculture upon approval by USDA, according to Leonhardt. State pilot projects are to operate under existing rules until the USDA issues rules and regulations sometime this fall, he said.