Farmers turn to growing hemp

Published 11:49 am Wednesday, September 25, 2019

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With tobacco production in Southside down significantly, one Charlotte County farmer has turned to growing hemp to supplement his income.

Bill Devin of Wylliesburg is trying his hand, for the first time, this growing season at hemp production.
“This is a whole new thing for me and to a lot of people,” said Devin. “Hemp is harder to grow and more expensive to grow than tobacco.”

Currently, Devin is growing 2 acres of hemp.

According to Tony Banks, senior assistant director of the Agriculture, Development & Innovation Department with the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, as of Sept. 9 there are 1,007 registered hemp growers in Virginia; so far, they have reported planting 1,944 acres statewide. This total includes 26 acres in Charlotte, 10 acres in Cumberland, 44 acres in Lunenburg and 6 acres in Prince Edward.

“Production in Southside is down significantly due to  China-US trade tariffs, cheaper tobacco leaf overseas and declining demand for domestic cigarettes,” Banks explained.

Farm Service Agency reports 30 percent fewer acres of flue-cured tobacco was planted in 2019 (14,500) versus 2018 (20,600) in Virginia.

Charlotte County farmers have reported planting 166 fewer acres of flue-cured tobacco. 734 acres were grown in 2019 compared to 900 acres in 2018.

Devin is one of those farmers who has planted fewer acres of tobacco for the 2019 season. Devin said that in 2018 and for the past several years he has grown around 162 acres of tobacco, compared to this year where he is growing 122 acres.

“Many tobacco farmers across Southside and Southwest Virginia are planting some hemp to see if hemp can offset income losses occurring from smaller tobacco contracts,” Blanks added.

According to Devin, who has been growing tobacco for 42 years, he was one of those farmers who lost a tobacco contract. “Universal Tobacco cut me 100 percent,” said Devin. “US Tobacco Corporation cut all their growers 80 percent across the board and Japan Tobacco International cut growers across the board by 20 percent.”

Devin went on to say that he felt like Universal Tobacco chose to cut some of their older farmers out of production contracts.

Devin’s hemp production contract is currently with Isolera Extracts of Oxford North Carolina and according to Devin, the company only uses the buds from the hemp plant. “They use the buds of the plants to extract CBD oil,” said Devin.

Devin also stated that this type of plant is used solely for CBD oils. “This is a totally different type of plant,” he explained. “This is not the smoking type … it looks like and smells like … but it is not.

Per section 10113 of the 2018 Farm Bill hemp cannot contain more than 0.3 percent THC. Any cannabis plant that contains more than 0.3 percent THC would be considered non-hemp cannabis—or marijuana—under federal law and would thus face no legal protection under this new legislation.

CBD products have been on the rise with consumers lately with companies selling everything thing from pills, oils, and even candies containing CBD. Sellers of these products in recent years have boasted everything from helping with joint pain and headaches to relieving anxiety and depression.

When it comes to the growing and harvesting of hemp, Devin explained that it is very different from growing tobacco. “Everything must be organic,” he said. “We can only use organic sprays if needed.”

Devin says that hemp is not as durable as tobacco in the field. “Too much water can kill it, and too little water can kill it,” he added. “It has to be just the right amount.”

When it comes time to harvest the plant hemp must be put in a barn to dry at no higher than 80 degrees, the buds are then stripped off by hand, or a machine says, Devin. “Definitely a learning process to this.,” said Devin. “But I don’t think hemp is going to replace tobacco.”