DANVILLE, Va. — The new era of reduced hemp regulation has seen the versatile plant skyrocketing in popularity in a myriad of industrial uses. But the hemp industry itself is still effectively in its infancy and has experienced growing pains.

Helping this industry mature around science, sound business principles, and high standards is a primary focus of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) and the Southeast Hemp Association. Their signature event, the annual Industrial Hemp Summit, was held virtually this week.

“Building the U.S. Industrial Hemp Industry is like putting together a 5,000-piece puzzle blindfolded and with the pieces constantly shifting,” said Marty Clemons, Board Chair, Southeast Hemp Association. “It is imperative that we collaborate in a professional and transparent manner to create a sustainable industry.“

With the theme of One Industry United, the fourth annual Industrial Hemp Summit was held Feb. 22-23 with a focus specifically on building the supply chain and market creation for industrial hemp food, fiber and flower. Approximately 230 participants representing 28 states and Canada attended the fast-paced, high-quality, two-day event with live access to sessions, the opportunity to participate in Q&A chats with expert speakers, and the chance to engage in potential virtual networking opportunities. Previous events were held in person at IALR, and plans are to return to an in-person event in 2022.

“The summit highlighted innovation in the industry, as well as the resources and infrastructure necessary to move the industry forward,” said Mark Gignac, Executive Director of the IALR. “We have always prided ourselves on the quality of the speakers and the panelists that we’ve engaged. This year, while virtual, was no exception.”

A multitude of leaders and experts in the hemp industry served as panelists and speakers, including Chase Hubard, Eric Steenstra, Erin Williams, Rod Kight, Volker Bornemann, and Rebecca Hobden. Topics ranged from financing, state regulations, legal policy, genetics and testing to market opportunities and general industry analyses.

“This year’s summit was a call to action for collaboration, leadership and development of standards to move the industry forward,” said Marty Clemons, one of the summit organizers and board chair of the Southeast Hemp Association.

Industrial hemp is used to make a variety of commercial and industrial products, including health and natural food products, supplements, skin products, clothing, bioplastics, insulation, biofuel and more.

Thanks to 2018 federal legislation, U.S. growers, processors and others now see hemp as an opportunity for diversification. The Industrial Hemp Summit is a multi-stakeholder collaboration focused on bringing those different interests together to build the industrial hemp industry in the U.S.

“The reemerging industry of industrial hemp provides diversification and growth opportunities, and the summit is one critical strategy to facilitate its growth through collaborative networking,” Gignac said.

The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research serves as a regional catalyst for economic transformation in Southern Virginia. IALR provides resources in applied research, advanced learning, economic development, advanced manufacturing and conference services. It is located in Danville, and is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

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