I-Team: Sky's the limit for NC's budding hemp industry

Tuesday, July 11, 2017
The fast-growing hemp industry in NC
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The I-Team takes a look at the fast-growing hemp industry in NC.

BUNN , North Carolina (WTVD) -- The plant is green and proponents of the industry think it has sky-high potential for North Carolina's economy.

"We don't know the yield," farm owner Mann Mullen tells the ABC11 I-Team. "But we do know we're going to give it everything possible."

Mullen, a fifth-generation tobacco farmer in Franklin County, is planting a new seed for success: hemp, the cousin of marijuana minus the THC. Mullen's company, Mullen View Farms, is one of 75 farms in North Carolina that recently earned state approval to test the crop's viability.

"We hope to generate the cash to stay on the family farm," Mullen said. "It's hard to stay on the family farm if you look at the prices of soybeans, the prices of corn, the price of wheat. It's almost impossible to grow and make a profit large enough to feed your family."

Mullen recruited his cousin, Johnny Vollmer, to help harvest the hemp seed on nearly 150 acres. Vollmer, who is starting his own merchandise company called "Johnny Hempseed," explained hemp could be used in several different industries.

"With fiber you can go in multiple directions," Vollmer told the ABC11 I-Team. "You can go in the car industry to replace fiber glass in the car panels. You can go to the textile industry to create fabric, you can go into the rope industry."

Hemp seeds could also be processed for its oil, which has long been highlighted for its uses in medicine.

"We feel confident about it," Vollmer asserted. "We believe in it."

The North Carolina General Assembly first passed legislation on industrial hemp in 2015, which earned the support and signature of former Gov. Pat McCrory. It took until 2017 for the state's Industrial Hemp Pilot Program to finalize all the rules and regulations before farmers could get the green light.

"It's trial and error," Sandy Stewart, Vice Chair of the N.C. Industrial Hemp Commission, told ABC11. "It's a new crop in an undefined new market. If it jells together, it's going to take time."

Among other requirements, prospective hemp farmers must obtain a license to import the hemp seed, a license to plant the hemp seed, and must be subject to THC testing and GPS tracking from the Department of Agriculture.

"(Hemp)'s cousin is a controlled substance, so we have to make sure that this program isn't abused," Stewart asserted.

Also working on the hemp operation, two entrepreneurs in nearby Nash County, home to a sprawling processing center that will convert whatever Mullen's farm harvests into the fiber or oils in demand for various products.

Bruce Perlowin, the CEO of Hemp, Inc., and David Schmitt, the COO of Industrial Hemp Manufacturing, told the ABC11 I-Team their total investment so far in North Carolina is nearing $15 million.