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Industrial hemp research pilot program in NC

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Growers from across the state gathered in Greensboro to get the answer to one question. Can industrial hemp be North Carolina's next cash crop?

"Basically, we want to learn about the growing process and what needs to be done to grow hemp effectively," Shelton Deshields said.

According to one industrial hemp trade group, in 2015 the market for hemp products was over $500 million. Most hemp products like cosmetics, food and textiles come from countries like Canada, China and Russia. Deshields believes those products can be made in North Carolina.

"If we can provide those products here in North Carolina, then we can be a supplier for stores,” Deshields said.

State lawmakers created the North Carolina Hemp Commission. The group, made up of university professors, farmers and law enforcement agents, will select the farmers that will be a part of the hemp research pilot program. The commission will also help guide their products to market.

Luciano Alvarado is a fruit and vegetable grower with farms in three states. He says industrial hemp has the potential to be more profitable than crops like blueberries.

"With hemp, we are thinking it’s going to be more economical. It's going to give more yield on less acreage,” Alvarado said.

As a part of the pilot program, university researchers from NC State and NC A&T will collect data that will help growers produce a healthy crop.

Dr. Shirley Hymon-Parker is NC A&T's interim dean and research director. She is excited that the state is helping farmers find another revenue source.

"It's now happening. We can be one of the states contributing to the availability of industrial hemp that will make a difference for many people,” Hymon-Parker said.

Alvarado agrees.

"The beauty we are seeing is that it will bring the young people back to agriculture. They don't have to sell the land like we have seen. Bring them back and prosper," Alvarado said.

The state is now accepting applications for the industrial hemp research pilot program. Growers that are selected hope to begin planting later this year.