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VALOR Seminar VI – Southwest, Virginia

Is hemp the new tobacco?

Listening to William Fannon talks about tobacco cultivation in southwest Virginia is a harsh reminder that nothing lasts forever. His daughter Amy and fellow VALOR IV cohort reminisce that Tobacco used to bring in extra money at Christmas time but for many tobacco growers in southwest Virginia, those days are long gone. With the burley leaf tobacco quota (the amount tobacco companies guaranteed they will buy) all but gone, growers are left to fill the void. So, is hemp the new tobacco? A tour of William Shipley hemp farm suggests that this is the case. In March 2019, Virginia amended its Industrial Hemp Law making it legal to commercially produce industrial hemp. Before the amendment, hemp could only be grown for research purposes. However, growing hemp is still controversial due to its similarities to marijuana. For those like myself who had never seen a hemp plant, it is easy to mistake it for marijuana. That is because they are from the same family. However, the difference lies in the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical that produces psychoactive effects. To remain legal, the amount of THC in hemp cannot exceed 30 percent. Only time will tell if hemp will fill the lacuna left by tobacco in southwest Virginia.

How many Ph.D. dissertations did it take?

According to its website, the Powell River Project is “a cooperative program of Virginia Tech, other educational institutions and environmental organizations, and natural resource industries serving the southwest Virginia coalfield region.” A key deliverable of the project was coal mine land reforestation and doctoral students at Virginia Tech were at the heart of the research. While the project had other research focus (e.g., mine soil construction, management of coal-related residual products, water resource management, and protection), its reforestation plan involved the planting of pine trees on mined land. The plan was anchor by the notion that pine was economically profitable as compared to the native species. In the end, the research found that the native species did better than the pine trees. It makes you wonder how many Ph.D. dissertations it took to figure out that the native plants were better suited.

Hands-on Learning

The Lincoln Memorial University Vet School gives new meaning to the phrase hands-on learning both figuratively and literally. Our stop here showed just how far the Vet School has gone to give students hands-on experience as early as their first year in the program. By embracing technology and developing animal anatomy props on-site, students get a feel for something close to the real thing!

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