FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2015, file photo, hemp plants tower above researchers who tend to them at a research farm in Lexington, Ky. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday, March 26, 2018, he wants to bring hemp production back into the mainstream by removing it from the controlled substances list that now associates it with marijuana, its illicit cousin. (AP Photo/Bruce Schreiner, File)

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CHARLESTON - The West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) announced the application period for the state's industrial hemp program will open Sept. 1.

Those interested in growing industrial hemp for the 2020 growing season must submit an application and all required materials by Sept. 30 to be considered for licensure, according to a news release from the WVDA.

"Each year, the number of producers, as well as the general interest in industrial hemp continues to grow. Foresight by the West Virginia Legislature has allowed our producers to have a leg up on other states. Now that industrial hemp is a legal crop throughout our country, this is the time for producers to take advantage of this opportunity," West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt said in the release.

The number of West Virginia licensed industrial hemp growers jumped from 24 in 2017 to 178 in 2019. The producers who were granted a permit for the 2019 growing season planned on raising 2,531 acres of industrial hemp. The next growing season will be the third for commercial harvest of industrial hemp.

"We expect our federal partners to release draft rules later this year. Once they have those rules, West Virginia will have to issue our own state plan. We will inform producers of changes every step of the process," Leonhardt said.

The 2019 Farm Bill, signed by President Trump on Dec. 20, 2018, authorized states to continue to operate under the 2014 Farm Bill until the USDA and FDA provided additional guidance. This extension ends 12 months after the USDA has issued a plan. States have until then to adjust local rules and regulations in order to come into compliance with federal standards.

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