The state’s first commercial industrial hemp fiber processing facility will open in Southwest Virginia.

Appalachian Biomass Processing plans to invest $894,000 in a Wythe County operation, creating 13 new jobs and buying more than 6,000 tons of Virginia-grown hemp over the next three years, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday.

“I am committed to pursuing every path that will attract economic prosperity to our rural communities, and hemp production opens up a wealth of opportunity to bring new jobs and new business to Virginia,” Northam said in a statement.

This is the first economic development announcement for Virginia’s hemp industry, which exploded this year after the state adopted legislation that allows the crop to be grown commercially, bringing state law in line with the 2018 federal farm bill that legalized the plant and removed it from the controlled substances list.

Hundreds obtained licenses to grow hemp from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, but processing has been slower to take off.

Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring said in a statement that developing the infrastructure to process hemp, along with markets in which to sell it, is “critical to seizing its potential.”

Appalachian Biomass Processing is set to receive a $25,000 grant from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund, which Wythe County has committed to matching.

The company plans to process bales of hemp stalks into two raw agricultural products, according to a news release: bast fiber and the woody core of the plant, or hurd. The bast fiber will be sold to a North Carolina company for additional processing and sale to the textile industry, while the hurd will be sold to a Virginia company for animal bedding.

The company’s founder, Susan Moore, is a Wythe County native. The release indicates she has partnered with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the University of Virginia on research.

“Our team brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and motivation to see this plan to fruition,” Moore said in a statement. “By working with state and local economic development allies, we hope to help create an entirely new industry for the region.”

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Casey Fabris covers business for The Roanoke Times, where she has been a reporter since 2015. Previously, Casey covered Franklin County.

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