Industrial hemp: the benefits, concerns, and unknowns for North Carolina tobacco farmers
North Carolina is the leader in flue-cured tobacco production in the United States; however, a growing reduction in demand has led growers to seek other sources of farm gate revenue. In 2014, the federal Farm Bill legalized state regulated growth of industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) for research. The following year, North Carolina began a pilot program that afforded licensed growers the opportunity to produce industrial hemp, creating a new source of income for tobacco farmers – particularly in the biomass cannabidiol (CBD) market. Early indications are that flue-cured tobacco farmers have a distinct advantage with industrial hemp production systems, due to overlapping equipment needs, experience with greenhouse seedling production, approaches to pest management, product quality control, and drying/curing facilities. The integration of industrial hemp with flue-cured tobacco systems has not been absent of concern, due to the many knowledge gaps that currently exist because of the long-time illegality of the crop in the United States. This presentation will address some of the information that has been learned since 2015 and will focus on the potential benefits to integrating hemp with flue-cured tobacco systems. We will also address topics of concern as they pertain to disease, insect, nutrient, and weed management.