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Virginia Tech’s industrial hemp research program

Virginia Tech has an active industrial hemp research and extension program, providing discoveries and programming for enhancing Virginia’s hemp production industry. Working closely with Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) Industrial Hemp program (http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/plant-industry-services-hemp.shtml), Virginia Tech seeks to provide research information and advancements and, in cooperation with Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE), facilitate the effective production and processing of hemp from Virginia. This integrated effort is principally led through the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station (VAES), and VCE.  Variety trials and planting date assessments, best planting practices, strategies for successful pest management are all part of the program. To learn more, read further.

The purpose of hemp research at Virginia Tech is to provide hemp growers with general information on crop production and, where possible, specific information and guidance on pests and corresponding crop management and protection. For all crops, proper pest management is important to maximize yield and quality. However, with hemp in particular, good agronomic practices that support healthy, productive plants becomes more critical given the limited pest and disease control options.

Research Activities

Corn earworm and hemp russet mites are two of the most important pests attacking hemp. Brown marmorated stink and cannabis aphids also frequent the crop, based on preliminary research (2017) by Dr. Tom Kuhar, VT School of Plant and Environmental Sciences (SPES; CALS), and PhD student Kadie Britt. From this preliminary evidence, Dr. Kuhar, in cooperation with researchers from University of Maryland Eastern Shore and University of Delaware, was funded (2020) for a 2-year project to study methods for improving pest management for hemp production in the Delmarva region. The team is looking at the efficacy of biological insecticides and other methods for developing pest management strategies for hemp. Funding was provided by the DelMarVa Land Grant Institution Cooperative Seed Grant program, a portion of which was provided by the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station (VAES).  

The effects of insect defoliation on hemp yield and cannabinoid concentrations have been investigated by Dr. Tom Kuhar and his PhD student, Kadie Britt since 2018. This research has revealed that grain hemp appears to be quite resilient and shows very little negative response to leaf tissue removal with regards to grain production or cannabinoid and THC concentrations in the plant. Additional studies on CBD oil-producing hemp plants are underway.

Over 29 hemp diseases were diagnosed in Virginia hemp in 2019, with Fusarium diseases, southern stem blight, leaf spots, die-back problems, and gray mold identified. Drs. Chuck Johnson and David Reed (Southern Piedmont AREC, VAES) visited several greenhouse hemp operations and 24 hemp fields in six Virginia counties in 2019 in order to survey hemp production and disease management practices and outcomes. Disease diagnoses were combined with those made by the VT Plant Disease Clinic in Blacksburg(SPES; CALS; Mary Ann Hansen and Elizabeth Bush) and were presented at the first annual Science of Hemp meeting (2019; hosted by University of Kentucky). 2019 diagnoses and observations were also used to contribute to the VCE publication on Integrated Pest Management of Hemp in Virginia (ENTO-349NP; co-authors: Britt, Fike, Flessner, Johnson, Kuhar, McCoy, Reed). In cooperation with other researchers and Extension specialists, this research and Extension effort has been funded by the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station (VAES) and the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission Agribusiness Program.

Herbicide tolerance of hemp is being evaluated by Michael Flessner (SPES; CALS), with the goal of getting herbicides labeled for use. Research trials starting in 2017 and continuing this season (2020) have identified both pre- and post-emergent herbicide options in direct seeded (grain or fiber) and transplanted (flower production) hemp. Data generated to date has been submitted to the IR-4 Project, which seeks to facilitate pesticide registrations on specialty crops. Collaborators on this work include John Fike (SPES; CALS) and Jabari Byrd (MS student, SPES; CALS).

FAQ

Industrial hemp is a plant with many beneficial uses.  Industrial hemp has absolutely no use as a recreational drug and is genetically different from marijuana, even though the two plants are the same species – Cannabis sativa. Hemp varieties are non-psychoactive and contain very low levels of THC. In addition, all industrial hemp must be tested to ensure it contains concentrations of THC that are less than what is allowed under federal law.

Industrial hemp is considered a dual-purpose crop and can be grown for  fiber, grain/oil or both. Hemp fiber is used in clothing, rope, construction materials, carpeting, and in the automobile industry. Its seed oil has the potential as an alternative energy source and as an ingredient in pharmaceuticals. It can also be used as cooking oil and in snacks. Beyond production and processing, the university may also explore value added products and the economics of hemp production and how it may benefit the commonwealth.

Virginia Tech research on hemp is conducted in small plot studies. These will occur on land that is owned or managed by Virginia Tech. This research occurs in the vicinity of the Blacksburg campus as well as at some of the 11 Virginia Tech Agricultural Research and Extension Centers located throughout the state.