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First processing facility for industrial hemp opens in Virginia

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Oct. 31 that the first commercial industrial hemp fiber processing facility in Virginia will locate in Wythe County. Vitality Farms, LLC, operating as Appalachian Biomass Processing, will invest $894,000, create 13 new jobs, and plans to purchase more than 6,000 tons of Virginia-grown industrial hemp over the next three years, at a value of more than $1 million.  This is the first economic development announcement for Virginia’s industrial hemp industry.

In March, Governor Northam signed legislation that was unanimously passed by the General Assembly to legalize the commercial growing and processing of industrial hemp by conforming Virginia law to the 2018 Federal Farm Bill.

He was quoted as saying, “I am committed to pursuing every path that will attract economic prosperity to our rural communities, and hemp production opens up a wealth of opportunity to bring new jobs and new business to Virginia,” said Governor Northam. “We are focused on developing a thriving and sustainable hemp industry in our Commonwealth and by establishing Virginia’s first modern commercial hemp processor, Appalachian Biomass Processing will play a key role in helping to create a highly-anticipated market for our farmers and industrial hemp growers.”

“Industrial hemp holds the potential to be an important crop for our farmers, especially those in the southern and southwestern regions of Virginia,” said Bettina Ring, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry. “Having the infrastructure to process industrial hemp and strong markets in which to sell it are critical to seizing its potential. With more than 1,100 registered industrial hemp growers in Virginia, I am pleased to see the local market for industrial hemp fiber begin to grow.”

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) worked with Wythe County to secure this project for the Commonwealth. Governor Northam approved a $25,000 grant from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) fund for the project, which Wythe County will match with local funds.

“Our production model is an internally reproducible model and can expand to meet the demands of the region’s hemp supply chain,” said Susan Moore, owner of Appalachian Biomass Processing.

Appalachian Biomass Processing will use a specialized decorticator to process bales of hemp stalks into two raw agricultural products. The company will sell bast fiber to a North Carolina company for further processing and sale to the textile industry, while the woody core of the plant, or hurd, will be sold to a Virginia company for use as animal bedding. A native of Wythe County, company founder Susan Moore has cultivated substantial industry knowledge and relationships through experience conducting research in partnership with VDACS and the University of Virginia.

Delegate Jeffrey L. Campbell was quoted in the news release as saying, “When I voted, initially in 2018 and again in 2019, to allow for the production of industrial hemp, I envisioned a new opportunity for our agricultural sector. Today it comes to fruition and brings with it substantial new investment and job creation for our people. We welcome, with open arms, Appalachian Biomass Processing and the prosperity it is sure to bring.”

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