Hemp in the hopper: Bill could legalize fiber crop

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SPRING HOPE — A Nash County kenaf grower said more farmers need to start growing hemp to bring more money to North Carolina farms.

Tony Finch grew 200 acres of the fiber-rich crop in 2017 an will be planting about the same amount this year.

“We need a lot more folks growing it to build the industry,” Finch said recently.”We need more farmers involved so we can get more money into these farms. One guy can’t grow it all.”

Finch was the primary supplier for Industrial Hemp Manufacuring, LLC, of Spring Hope.

David Schmitt, chief operating officer of the hemp processing facility, that passage of a new hemp legalization bill introduced April 20 in Congress would result in exponential growth of the hemp industry.

“The industry would grow tremendously almost immediately,” Schmitt said. “We need the hemp laws to be administered by the individual states’ departments of agriculture, so the industry could double, triple, quadruple overnight if that happened.”

Senate leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has introduced HR 3530, which would disassociate hemp from cannabis.

“Right now, that’s not the case,” Schmitt said. “Hemp is classified as cannabis and obviously cannabis is a Schedule I (drug), which is ludicrous.”

The McConnell bill would remove cannabis from the schedule of controlled substances completely.

“What would happen is once cannabis is completely de-scheduled, it would put the marijuana issue in the individual states’ hands,” Schmitt said. “If the voters want to vote for medicinal or recreational marijuana, it would be up to the states.”

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration would not be responsible for enforcing hemp laws.

“We would not have to jump through all of the hoops we do today to be compliant with the U.S. DEA. And that’s what we need,” Schmitt said. We wouldn’t have all of the restrictions now.”

According to Schmitt, 25,000 acres of hemp and kenaf could be grown in North Carolina in 2018 from growers registered as producers with the North Carolina Industrial Hemp Commission, part of the N.C. Department of Agriculture.

Growers will be planting seeds in mid-May.

Schmitt said it is challenging to bring seed in from offshore as well as domestically to grow hemp and its close relative, kenaf.

“I’m trying to source seed from all over the world and there is just so much paperwork to fill out,” Schmitt said. “There’s just a lot of paperwork you’ve got to go through and we’re doing that right now on our proposed 25,000 acres.”

Industrial Hemp Manufacturing announced Thursday that it had completed harvesting 200 acres of kenaf grown in North Carolina. The company processed about 2 million pounds of kenaf to create its product DrillWall, which is a naturally absorbent material used widely by the oil and gas industries.

Schmitt said sales of DrillWall and a similar product, Spill-be-Gone, have been very good.

The company has an 85,000-square foot processing facility in Spring Hope.

“This harvested kenaf will support the production of our environmentally friendly products that provide a nontoxic solution to cleaning up spills and absorbing various materials,” Schmitt said.“We are also proud to work with local farmers in order to meet the growing demand in the oil and gas well-drilling industries for high-quality, consistent, safe products.

According to the commission, there are 65 registered hemp producers in North Carolina, but none in Wilson County.