Researchers looking to hemp as possible 'cash crop'
WISE COUNTY, Va. - Researchers in southwest Virginia are looking to nature in an effort to provide diversity and collaboration in bringing back the economy. An ongoing project at the University of Virginia at Wise is looking at the production of hemp as a potential boost. The researchers believe this could be the next cash crop for the region. In 2014, the federal government approved research into industrial hemp, a plant which can produce bio-fuels, seed oils, medicine, and fiber. Virginia legislation passed in 2015 allowing researchers associated with universities to look into the benefits of the plant. A $1.1 million grant from plant biotechnology company 22nd Century is funding research at the University of Virginia, both in Charlottesville and Wise. "There is a big potential for it to boost the economy in the area, so we're trying to find out which types, which cultivars are going to grow well here," Biology professor Ryan Huish said. In our region, researchers are looking at hemp to assist in curbing the downfall of natural resources that have long dominated: coal and tobacco. Huish said, "We're proposing it's going to be growing well in the tobacco fields and so tobacco production is going down and hemp is a cash crop that can replace tobacco." As part of the project, student Adam Jones has been working throughout the summer monitoring the crop grown on reclaimed mine land at the college. "We have about six acres altogether throughout our fields. It's separated into several different plots, each containing a different cultivar,"Jones said. Jones worked with the team to plant seeds on around six acres in late June. The team expects to harvest the crop in September. These researchers are hoping Virginia farmers will soon be able to obtain a permit to grow industrial hemp as well to catch up with neighboring states like Kentucky and Tennessee. "We're losing a lot of people in this area, and we just need something to help people hang on and to give this area a boost. Hemp, short-term, it may not be the solution we're looking for, but long-term, I think it has a lot of potential," Jones said.