Local farmers suggest hemp is business gamble – Progress Index

Local farmers suggest hemp is business gamble - Progress Index

New agriculture crop legalized in Virginia attracts misinformed, unsuspecting thieves

DINWIDDIE — While local farmers in northern Dinwiddie County say issues with trespassers they had been dealing with have seemed to calm down, their future in the hemp business remains unclear.

David and Jamie Turner, the sons of Donald Turner, who owns Turner Farms in northern Dinwiddie County, explained during a Thursday, Oct. 10 interview with The Progress-Index (The P-I) that they had been dealing with thieves who’ve mistakenly been under the wrong impression that hemp is the same thing as Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the main active ingredient in marijuana which produces a high.

Hemp does not contain any THC and therefore the trespassers seeking to steal hemp crops are sadly misinformed.

On Turner Farms’ Facebook page, a July 12 post reads: “As our newest crop grows, we’ve had lots of inquiries as to ‘What are you all planting by your house?’ It’s hemp you all – [it’s] not to be confused with its illegal twin; we’ve had fellow farmers who have had their plants stolen over the last couple of weeks, so please, hemp is just a Google away. Feel free to message us if you have questions.”

“We had some issues but it’s died off – we haven’t had any issues in [around] two to three weeks; I think we had about 20 people who were arrested,” said David Turner.

He said trespassers seeking to steal hemp plants would sneak onto the farm’s premises at all times of the day.

“We had one issue right down the road where police caught two people; we were talking to the police officer and then we came back to the house – the police officer left and came back because he forgot something and then he saw another car leaving – so it looked like that person was watching us [while they] were driving by,” Turner explained.

Speaking about the hemp business, he said that “It’s a very unstable crop – you don’t know who you’re talking to and you kind of have to feel people out.”

He was referring to the farm’s customers who use hemp for processing and production of Cannabidiol, or CBD products, which was recently legalized in Virginia and throughout other parts of the nation, but remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government.

“We’re in the middle of harvest and we’ve probably got two to three weeks to go, and then we have to process and maneuver things to figure out what we’re going to do with it,” Turner said.

He said their customers mostly include larger corporations that are processing the plant.

“We put it into a form that’s dry enough where they can store and process as they need it – most of it is going to CBD oil, [but] we’ve got some other avenues that we can play with,” however he explained how “There’s nothing for certain yet.”

Talking about how they will determine whether or not this crop will serve to be worth their time, money and effort, Turner said they will just have to wait until they get paid.

“When we get our first pay check, we’ll know.” He explained that will let them know if they were falsely told how much they would be paid when they decided to go into the new business.

“[Buyers] promise you a certain number and then they start lowering everything,” Turner said.

When asked if they would return to growing crops such as tobacco and soybeans if it turns out that the hemp doesn’t sell like they were led to believe it would, the two brothers explained at that point it wouldn’t be worth it for them to continue back down another road.

“No, we’ve gone way too far in – we have so much here and so many liabilities,” he said. David’s brother Jamie was straight to the point in that if they aren’t able to turn over the inventory, then he’ll be on the job search.

“If this doesn’t work out – I’m going to get a job – I mean if it’s not profitable [then] I have to do something else,” Jamie Turner explained.

Hemp is used in the production of CBD oil and its fibers can also be used to produce fabric and textiles such as ropes and clothing.

However, the difference in sales when comparing the use of its fibers to the use of its ingredients for CBD products, David explained, “Is like pennies versus dollars; the market is not there where it’s demanding [that] as much, so they’re not willing to pay the higher price [for the fibers], but the oil is more on the medical side and helping people, so they’re willing to pay higher.”

“With the tariffs and everything going on with China, they haven’t exported any tobacco from last year or the year before last – so China didn’t buy any tobacco this year – well, that cut us 50 acres and the other companies, they picked up a little bit of our slack, but we wound up getting cut around 100 acres – that’s a third of my income,” Jamie emphasized.

The brothers explained that when prices are cut, it diminishes what they were expecting to be their income, and now they are making two thirds of what they were making before.

“We’d be lucky to have another crop that could potentially make money, but then we realize how much money we’ve already spent into this just to process it,” David said.

“We had a contract at a certain percentage-per-dollar and then the United States Food and Drug Association put a halt on putting CBD into food production, and they only did it on big-box companies; well the company we were with, they had: Nabisco, Coca-Cola and Purina dog food – they’re all big-box companies – [if they] can’t sell it, [then] they can’t buy it,” Jamie said.

He was referring to Isolair Extracts, a lead industrial hemp processor for CBD oil and isolate extraction based out of Oxford, North Carolina.

Only time will tell what the future holds, if anything, for Turner Farms’ hemp-growing business, but as of now, the family continues to press on in hopes they will be able to transport these crops off their farm and into processing.

Logan Barry can be reached at lbarry@progress-index.com.

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