CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The application period to get into the state‚Äôs industrial hemp program is coming to an end and Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt said it could not have gone better.

Farmers will be able to apply through Monday after opening up on September 1. Leonhardt said there is excitement around the state for the 2020 growing season.

Kent Leonhardt

“I believe we are going to well exceed last year’s application numbers, which to me says we have a successful program,” he said to MetroNews.

“People are excited, people are interested in the program. The Department of Agriculture is doing a great job and my staff is awesome. They are really working with the growers to make sure they are getting their applications in properly.”

Leonhardt said the state Department of Agriculture received just over 200 applicants last year and issued 178 permits.

According to the department, the number of West Virginia licensed industrial hemp growers jumped from 24 in 2017 to 178 this year. 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, a release said.

“They see that there is an opportunity for a new industry in the state of West Virginia. They see there is potential to be a part of something new and get in on the forefront,” Leonhardt said of the skyrocketing numbers of applications every year.

When the application period ends, the department will review all applications to see if there is any missing information. Then the process moves to background checks on the growers and licenses will be issued.

Leonhardt said there is no cap on the number of licenses his department will give out. He is excited for another year of diversifying the state’s economy and the farmer’s supply.

“We need economic diversity in the state,” Leonhardt said. “This also gives the farmer that has a small business of land that they aren’t; using for something else, can diversify their farm.”

“A lot of these people that are going to be doing this are cattle farmers, ranchers, produce growers and have a little extra ground. They want to diversify their income. Agriculture is a very risky business.”