Industrial hemp group starts Go Fund Me campaign

VIENNA — West Virginia is looking for its next niche crop.

The West Virginia Hemp Industries Association (WVHIA) believes this niche crop is industrial hemp.

The WVHIA has launched a Go Fund Me campaign to support industrial hemp as the state’s new niche crop, said J. Morgan Leach, of Vienna, executive director of the hemp industries association.

In the first four days of the Go Fund Me campaign, $500 has been raised, Leach said Tuesday.

The WVHIA is a 501(c)(6) non-profit trade association that represents farmers, businesses, researchers and investors working with industrial hemp in West Virginia.

They are requesting support for education, advocacy and outreach efforts to assist in developing the state’s capacity to profit from this new cash crop, Leach said.

Industrial hemp became legal last year for cultivation, research and marketing purposes in West Virginia. Three locations in Wood County have been approved for growing industrial hemp out of the 22 licenses issued by the state for 2017.

The program has gained interest not only from farmers in the state but also from state leadership, Leach said.

Newly elected Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt has expressed interest in the potential for industrial hemp and has supported legislation to expand access for farmers and researchers to enter the pilot program, Leach said.

People can learn more about efforts to develop the crop at wvhia.org and wvhemp.org. Donations to the campaign are accepted at https://www.gofundme.com/SupportWVHIA.

Hemp Day at the West Virginia Capitol will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 27 at the state Capitol Rotunda, hosted by the West Virginia Hemp Industries Association. Hemp farmers and hemp businesses will talk to legislators about the benefits associated with growing hemp. Tables with information will be set up at the Capitol.

About 18-20 businesses have expressed an interest in attending Hemp Day and there is room for more farmers and businesses to attend the free event, Leach said.

Leach was in Washington, D.C., last Wednesday meeting with the staffs of Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin to discuss issues that support West Virginia farmers and to seek a vote for the federal Industrial Hemp Farming Act. Leach said he was able to meet briefly with Manchin.