DANVILLE, Va. – Dozens of people packed the lecture hall at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research on Tuesday morning for a panel discussion about hemp's potential use as a fiber similar to cotton.
The panel was made up of industry presidents and CEOs and a professor from North Dakota State University.
It was one of three panels held Tuesday to discuss various aspects of hemp production.
One interested audience member was Rockingham County farmer Glenn Rodes.
"Margins are so low on traditional crops. We're all looking for crops that would have a higher margin where we could make a little money on them," Rodes said.
He currently grows hemp for researchers at James Madison University and would like to grow it either for feed or to sell.
One big challenge is how to process it.
"The exciting thing about this event is, there are people here interested in doing manufacturing and further processing of hemp," Rodes said.
Halifax County Supervisor J.T. Davis hopes these annual summits will help attract a processor to Southside.
Halifax County organized the summit along with the institute.
"We can recruit growers from roughly a 100-mile radius to supply hemp to the processor, so it would go full circle," Davis explained.
U.S. retail sales of hemp-based products could exceed $300 million annually according to industry reports.
The federal government considers hemp a drug just like marijuana because it has trace amounts of the chemical in marijuana that gets you high.
Jason Amatucci is the executive director of the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition.
He said legislation currently in Congress could change that.
"We have HR3530 that is kind of in a holding pattern right now. It's about to maybe get a hearing. That is a bipartisan effort," Amatucci said.
A promising effort, he said, and one that could help Southside develop roots into what he said is a billion-dollar industry.
Halifax County and the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research hope to make the summit an annual event.