MARION COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Farmers learn more about the benefits of growing industrial hemp as bill heads to the state house.
Many of our local farmers are still recovering from the thousand-year flood in Oct. 2015 and Hurricane Matthew, which happened just three months ago.
Saturday more than 75 farmers learned of a crop that could soon be their saving grace. That's if the law passes for them to be able to grow it legally. It marks the first-ever meeting to educate local farmers on industrial hemp. Farming has been in some of their families for as long as their blood lines goes back in time.
"My family has been farming for generations. It's an ancestor this for us," said Johnny Shelley.
Johnny Shelley was one of the farmers who was interested to hear what each speaker had to say especially after what any farmer will tell you, has been a rough couple of years due to mother nature.
"The flood of 2015, it was a disaster. And now Matthew last year, it hit the farmers big time, so we've been struggling big for the last two years," Shelley said.
While of course there were questions throughout Saturday's meeting, Janel Ralph, the CEO of Palmetto Synergistic Research says one thing to understand is that Industrial Hemp is not connected marijuana. She explained it's not a drug, and can't even be grown alongside a marijuana plant because industrial hemp would prevent that plant from pollinating.
Instead, she believes it gives farmers another dual-purpose crop to grow.
"What it can do for the farmers, is that it can add a crop as a bumper crop back into their cycle and it gives them another opportunity for another crop as big as tobacco if not bigger," said Janel Ralph.
Johnny Shelley is also the President of the Tobacco Growers Association, and said he's seen a lot of change over the years when it comes to tobacco.
"That crop is declining and we are looking for an alternative health crop," Shelley said.
Some were surprised to hear all that can come from industrial hemp.
"Everything we use on a day-to-day basis, from our clothing, to our paper products, to even down to the door panels on our vehicles, can be and are being produced with hemp already," Ralph explained.
Many in the group of farmers see it as a crop they can get behind.
"We absolutely will consider this, and we've already got, most of us got the equipment it takes to grow this already," he said.
The amended bill will be dropped off in the state capital this week. Ralph said the amendments were made to allow farmers to grow industrial hemp in a way that is federally compliant.