As the tobacco industry in North Carolina continues to dwindle, farmers continue to search for alternative crops.
Commercial hemp production is one of those options, and the local Agriculture Extension office is fielding numerous calls from farmers.
Dalton Dockery, the local N.C. Cooperative Extension Director, said, “As long as we stay within the legal means of the law, it has great potential as far as for fiber and seed production.”
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture formed a commission to study industrial hemp and the possibilities in North Carolina. The commission has created a pilot program that allows farmers to grow industrial hemp for research purposes only.
Industrial hemp starts as a small seed that is grown like any regular crop.
The industrial hemp grown in North Carolina would be used mostly for its fiber. Hemp fibers can be used to manufacture twine, paper, construction materials, carpeting, clothing, animal bedding, and hundreds of other products.
The plant’s seed, only produced on the female plants, can be used for making industrial oils, cosmetics, medicines, and other personal care products. Hemp seed or oil can be used in cooking, salad dressings, pastas and snack foods.
Hemp is mostly used for medicinal purposes, which is what makes the crop so valuable. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2014 that Canada’s hemp industry was nearly a $1 billion-a-year crop. The market potential for North Carolina is unknown.
Industrial hemp is a controversial crop because it is considered a Schedule 1 narcotic substance by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. The industrial hemp plant is a different variety of the same plant species as marijuana. Marijuana contains 3 to 15 percent THC, a hallucinogen, meaning that it is a psychedelic drug. Industrial hemp, on the other hand, contains less than 1 percent.
In most countries that permit hemp cultivation, the content is less than 0.3 percent. The industrial hemp research pilot program is only a trial. The hemp can be grown only for research purposes; therefore, under state and federal laws, farmers must have a license to participate in the program.
The Industrial Hemp Commission is still developing rules and regulations for the program. After the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services create rules, the marketability can be determined. Hemp research is very limited in the United States, but Kentucky has taken part of the industrial hemp farming program for about three years.