First Hemp Crop: Steve & Leah Glass Hopeful For Hemp's Future

Steve and Leah Glass are cautiously optimistic about what will happen when they harvest the hemp now growing on their fourth-generation tobacco farm.

"If all goes well and according to the agreement we have, we will do well. We will do very well," he said, noting a lifetime of farming has taught him to be careful of speculation.

Glass grew up on the 180-acre farm established by his great grandfather, Jerome Glass, and later by his grandfather, then his father, Jack Glass Jr. The farm has remained mostly intact, "Except for the part the interstate took," Glass said.

He planted his own first tobacco crop at a young age, he said, unable to recall an exact age.
"I started when I was big enough," he said with a slight grin. "When I first started farming, tobacco was a pretty good thing. After the tobacco buy out, it started the demise of it."

Husband and wife agree they have a passion for farming, although they also agree they would be unable to make a living purely from agricultural efforts in today's market. "If we could make it on the farm, we wouldn't make it off the farm," he said, confirming he would like to spend his waking hours working the land and tending to cattle.

His wife explains they instead rely on income from a group of rental properties, and other interests, to keep their bills paid. "It's what we like to do," she said of their farm ventures. For a while, options and alternatives to tobacco did not seem particularly promising, Glass said. "Tobacco … there just wasn't anything left. Then this hemp came along. I don't know if it's going to be any good or not," he said.

The new crop brought a need for some new equipment, he said, although his existing machinery for tobacco cultivation gave him most of what he needed for the job. Their hemp is grown using "plasticulture" and drip-irrigation technology, similar to what is used by modern strawberry farms in other regions where tobacco and cotton once ruled the landscape. "We didn't know anything about the plastic and the drip lines when we first started, but we've got it figured out pretty well now," he said.

The Glass family has three acres of hemp growing under "conventional" methods, and another acre at another site growing as certified organic hemp. He said he considered the use of hemp for health products and medicines as factors which might work in favor of the organic crop, adding he has experience with organic tobacco production to help guide him. "Next year, we will probably be 100 percent organic," he said.

The local hemp crop almost did not happen this year, Glass said, explaining they got caught in a time crunch between licensing and finding seeds which they knew would meet legal requirements. With little time to spare, they were able to find a "mother plant" which could be used to make multiple young "clone" plants.

There are no fences or other devices around the hemp fields. Glass said their initial concerns about hungry deer, thieves and other problems have not been realized. "We were scared to death about deer at our other (organic) location, but we have more deer out here by the road," he said, adding they often find holes in the plastic after deer visit the hemp fields, but have not found any evidence of them eating the crop.

While hemp and marijuana surely look extremely similar, Glass said anyone who might want to smoke what they have growing will not like the results. "They say all it will do is give you an awful headache. I've heard that several times."