Hemp processing plant

Local and state officials were on hand in Wytheville to announce a planned industrial hemp processing plant on Thursday.

Wythe County will be home to Virginia’s first commercial industrial hemp processing facility.

Appalachian Biomass Processing owners Susan and Chris Moore made the announcement Thursday morning along with Gov. Ralph Northam. The facility will share space on Queens Knob Road with ABF Freight.

Susan Moore, a nurse practitioner at Forest Family Care in Wytheville, said the center will be the first large-scale facility to separate hemp plants into bast fiber and hurd.

“We will take the raw material and separate it into these two products, so they can get into the retail market,” she explained.

The bast fiber will be sold textile companies to be made into fabrics. Other companies will buy the hurd, which comes from the inner part of the hemp stalk, to be made into animal bedding.

Two such companies were onsite on Thursday. Old Dominion Hemp’s Paul Miller said animal bedding made from hemp hurd has proved to be a hit. The bedding provides higher absorbency with lower labor and is highly compostable.

“We know there’s a viable market here because the demand out steps the current supply,” Miller said. “But the bottleneck here in the mid-Atlantic is the lack of a fiber processing center.”

The Waynesboro company currently has to import hemp from Europe.

“So we’re excited for Susan and her family to turn on their machine,” Miller said.

Likewise, Renaissance Fiber out of Yadkinville, North Carolina, is eager for the processing to begin. Unaware of any other large-scale processing facility, the textile company relied on small-scale operations and hand-separated fibers to create their goods.

“When these guys came along, we immediately got with them and encouraged them along,” said a Renaissance Fiber representative.

To the Moores, the decision to launch the company was an easy one to make.

 “Being from Southwest Virginia, our roots in agriculture have driven us to create a facility that will enable our friends, family and other regional farmers to convert their crop into retail form,” Chris Moore said.

Last March, Northam signed into law a bill that legalized commercial growing and processing of hemp. Since then, at least two Wythe County hemp farms have registered with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.  Other farms in Smyth, Floyd and Washington counties have also registered to produce hemp.

“This project creates a much anticipated market for Virginia hemp growers,” Northam said.

Over the next three years, he said,  Appalachian Biomass plans to buy more than 6,000 tons of Virginia-grown hemp.  The project will also create 13 new jobs and bring in more than $849,000 in new investments.

Wythe County Board of Supervisors Chairman Tim Reeves said, “Appalachian Biomass Processing is the embodiment of progress and we’re thrilled that Susan Moore chose to locate right here in Wythe County.”

Reeves pointed out that not only would the company be processing local crops, but it would also be helping to supply the global marketplace.

“This proves that Southwest Virginia can compete anywhere and that Wythe County will be the center of hemp fiber production in the eastern US.”

To find out more about Appalachian Biomass Processing, visit their website at www.appbiomass.com.

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