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Gooden: Virginia working on industrial hemp | Opinion

Gooden serves as Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry for Virginia. He owns a cattle farm in Buckingham County.

As Virginia’s Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, I am proud to serve two industries that have been the fabric of our history and are the largest private industries in today’s Virginia economy. In fact, a few weeks ago, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that agriculture and forestry account for a combined economic impact of $91 billion in Virginia. Agriculture, from production to processing, accounts for $70 billion of that figure, a 30 percent increase over where we were in our 2014 reported numbers.

In Virginia, hardworking producers market to diverse, savvy consumers. The future outlook is tremendous as we face opportunities to embrace technological and industrial advancements that allow a fresh look at age-old crops in addressing the needs of our consumers to source products from low-environmental impact crops, yet high usability and versatility. Hemp is one such crop.

You’ve read articles, such as the Sept. 28 commentary “Catch up with Carolina,” that tout the advancements of our neighboring states in promoting research around production and processing of industrial hemp. As in our history, we are looking for ways to once again embrace this crop as practical and useful, while doing due diligence to adhere to regulatory guidelines and monitoring to protect producers and consumers. Virginia agency officials and staff have been working hard to learn about the best, most advantageous way to bring this crop to market while it is being researched and regulated.

As Secretary, I want to be clear; Virginia is working diligently to support the development of a strong, robust and economically viable industrial hemp industry in the state. I am working with Virginia stakeholders to move our industry ahead in allowing the production and processing of industrial hemp products. Drafted legislation for the 2018 General Assembly will establish the Virginia Industrial Hemp Research Program and a new Industrial Hemp Processor License to allow us to attract more processors to the state as we expand. In working closely with members of Congress, I trust that we will all articulate a clear direction in allowing industrial hemp to once again be grown and cultivated in the commonwealth.

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