This week, Carolina Journal’s Brooke Conrad reported on hemp cultivation in North Carolina. Conrad interviewed one hemp farmer, Shane Whitaker, who characterizes hemp as the new tobacco. Conrad reports:

Tobacco has dominated the state’s farms and industries over the past century, but hemp is slowly taking its place. This year, the state approved 1,300 North Carolina farmers for hemp cultivation, for a total of 13,000 acres and 5 million square feet of greenhouse space, said Blake Butler, executive director of the N.C. Industrial Hemp Association. 

Whitaker is also placing his bets in the pot — planting 35 acres of hemp in what used to be tobacco fields in Climax, North Carolina. 

Conrad reports the switch from tobacco to hemp can be remarkably profitable:

While conventional and organic tobacco sell at $2 and $3.50 a pound, hemp could yield a whopping $35.

The switch can be surprisingly easy as well:

Whitaker, like many other hemp farmers in North Carolina, already owns tobacco curing barns, where tobacco plants are dried post-harvest. These barns can also be used for hemp, which saves farmers a lot of money. If Whitaker wanted to, he could expand to 200 acres of hemp without spending a lot of extra cash on equipment.

“…Hemp will take the place of tobacco for us, meaning it utilizes the same equipment, the same curing barns,” Whitaker said. “The same infrastructure that works in tobacco works in hemp.” 

This existing tobacco infrastructure in North Carolina puts it at an advantage in hemp cultivation. Conrad explains:

North Carolina is one of the top five producers of hemp in the U.S. Kentucky is larger, mainly because hemp was made legal there first, Whitaker said. 

…Whitaker estimates North Carolina will be the largest hemp player in the country within five years. That’s because the state has a leg up with its large tobacco infrastructure, which easily translates into hemp production. 

Read the full story here. Learn more about hemp in North Carolina here.