Virginia Tech researchers hoping to expand hemp industry

Researchers say commerical growth could lead to big economic development

BLACKSBURG, Va. – Virginia Tech is leading the state in research on industrial hemp.

It hasn't been grown in the commonwealth for decades, but a law passed a couple years ago is opening doors for the hemp industry.

“We're looking at the ergonomic practices, so we're also trying to look at different varieties of hemp and just see how they are best suited in Virginia,” masters student Jabari Byrd said.

Their work started two years ago after a law passed that legalized growing hemp for research.

“We’re looking at new ways for farmers to make money, to make a livelihood, so this will be another crop that they could grow,” said Tom Hammett, sustainable biomaterials professor.

Researchers say there are a variety of uses for hemp.

“You can get a lot out of the plant versus just like corn,” Byrd said.

It could be added to strengthen concrete, for burlap, cereal or even lip gloss.

“Canada has it legalized, it's a big industry in Asia, why not here?” Hammett said.

That's what some lawmakers are now trying to do, including Congressman Bob Goodlatte. He's co-sponsoring a bill that would make it legal to grow hemp commercially.

“I think it would help out our economy a lot (and) ... it would definitely help the small farms and it would also help large scale farms too,” Byrd said.

Researchers say they hope to be able to tell farmers the best practices and applications for hemp if and when it's legalized.

“It would bring some new flavor to agriculture,” Byrd said.

They say that new flavor has the potential to bring in big bucks.

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