The 2019 Industrial Hemp Summit: Highlights and Takeaways

A large field of hemp plants

For decades, hemp has been regarded as one of the most versatile plants in existence. From hemp oils to hemp clothing and textiles, the plant has a multitude of applications within a broad variety of industries.

On February 25th and 26th, 2019, hundreds of people across these industries united together in the city of Danville, Virginia to discuss the future of hemp research and production in the United States. Hosted by Halifax County, Virginia Agricultural Development (HCAD) and the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR), the collaborative event featured two days of enlightening panels, productive discussion, and strategic thinking.

Among the attendants were researchers, businesspeople, and farmers who filled the sold-out IALR conference halls to share the latest insights and innovations surrounding the remarkable hemp plant.

New Horizons for Farmers

By legalizing industrial hemp — defined as cannabis plants with less than 0.3% THC — the United States Hemp Farming Act of 2018 made legal hemp growth more accessible for farmers across America and has spurred interest in further hemp research. As a result, many speakers at the Industrial Hemp Conference encouraged both American farmers in Virginia and elsewhere to adopt hemp as a profitable crop.

Vocal proponents of hemp farming included Mark Gignac, executive director at The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, who cited Virginia’s land and proven agricultural history as key selling points.

Although 2018’s Farm Bill has driven interest in legal hemp growth and hemp research, the US remains heavily reliant on foreign hemp imports. As a result, growing hemp in US soil is a nascent, lucrative opportunity for farmers and businesses. Many of the event’s attendees believe that hemp will help reinvigorate farming nationwide by boosting profits and stimulating industry growth. Others consider hemp to be a saving grace for local farmers, especially those who previously grew tobacco but had to cease growing operations due to stringent US regulation.

Despite the abundance of optimism for hemp growth, some attendants deemed hemp’s future as an American cash crop to be promising, but ultimately unclear. Although the regulation dictating hemp growth is currently sparse, some farmers believe that like tobacco, tighter legislation will eventually be enacted.

CBD and Beyond: The Latest Hemp Research

Although a significant amount of hemp is grown to create CBD products, many of the conference’s presenters highlighted dozens of other applications and uses for the plant.

Panelist and Virginian farmer, Glenn Rodes, uses hemp for a variety of purposes across his farm. Most notably, Rodes has adopted hemp as a biofuel and as bedding for his cattle.

Another Industrial Hemp Conference attendee, South Boston Town Manager Tom Raab, was optimistic about bringing a hemp processing plant to South Boston or Halifax County. Raab cited the versatility of hemp and drew attention to several hemp varieties, including one grown exclusively for CBD oil production and another that has exceptional utility as a fiber.

One panel, “Market Making Technical Fibers,” explored the latest hemp research and development surrounding plant cellulose, a naturally-occurring component of hemp. Lead by Marty Clemons, Dr. Trey Riddle, and Tai Olson, the panel also drew attention to new applications for hemp technical fibers, as well as hemp hurds and shivs. Hemp hurds, the woody insides of hemp stalks, can be used to manufacture particleboards and paper. Hemp shiv, a similar material, can be used to produce insulation boards.

Another panel, “Market Making Textiles,” focused on the promising intersection between sustainably-made hemp apparel and a consumer-driven desire for ethically responsible clothing production. The panel’s speakers included:

  • Guy Carpenter, President of Bear Fiber Inc
  • Daniel Yohannes, the Chief Operating Officer of Renaissance Fiber LLC
  • John Lupien, the President and Founder of BastCore LLC
  • Eric Henry, the President of TS Designs

Hemp as a Food

Aside from using the hemp plant to produce CBD, textiles, and other goods, industrial hemp seed has a multitude of applications as a food.

Hemp seeds and a wooden spoon

Hemp research has revealed that hemp seed has a robust nutrition profile that contains high amounts of protein, an ideal balance of omega-3 & omega-6 fatty acids, and all nine essential amino acids. As a result, hemp seeds are often used as an ingredient in various food products, including hemp cooking oils and hemp milk. Further hemp research has also lead to the inclusion of hemp seed oil in beauty and personal care products.

At the 2019 Industrial Hemp Conference, the topic of hemp’s role in the health, nutrition, and beauty sectors was the focus of a panel entitled “Market Making Consumer Goods.” The panel was lead by several insightful experts in the industry, including:

  • Kristin Adams – Founder and CEO, Afterglow Cosmetics
  • Chad Rosen – President, Victory Hemp Foods
  • Joell A. Eifert – Director, Food Innovations Program, Department of Food Science and Technology, Virginia Tech
  • John Roulac – CEO & Founder of RE Botanicals and the Founder & Chief Visionary Officer of Nutiva

Panelists discussed how their businesses/organizations are utilizing hemp and hemp research to create innovative, sustainable products within their respective industries.

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