Alabama A&M researchers are trying to figure out how to successfully grow hemp in the state. The college is only one of five universities in the state approved to produce and research the plant.
Researchers have planted their first hemp seeds and plan to plant at least seven different varieties of hemp by the end of June.
"What varieties will do well in northern Alabama and as further down in southern Alabama?" Dr. Ernst Cebert said.
That's the main question Dr. Cebert looks to answer as he and his team study hemp, a plant containing less than 0.3% of THC, the chemical found in marijuana.
Dr. Cebert says this is the first time in more than half a century that the crop is legally being grown in Alabama. He knows the big focus in the industry is on CBD oil, but that's not what he's interested in.
"We on the other hand, for this project and our future project we plan to do, focus on the fiber," Dr. Cebert said.
The group is approved by the state to grow the crop on 5 acres of land in Hazel Green. They are looking to study a key part of the plant, the stalks. Dr. Cebert tells WAAY 31 that's where a very strong fiber is found that can be used to make concrete, fuel and even car parts.
A team member says the lack of research makes the plant a bit of an unknown. They need to first learn the basics of how to grow the plant before thinking about its future uses.
"Especially in terms of production, in terms of pest management, can even go beyond in terms of economic impact," Dr. Xianyan Kuang said.
Dr. Cebert says Alabama farmers are already growing a fiber crop in the form of cotton. Hemp could become another cash crop for an industry that could use the help.
"We believe that any farmer already in the cotton business, to enter in another fiber crop, can be an additional help for them," Dr. Cebert said.
The Alabama Department of Agriculture approved 180 applications throughout the state to legally grow hemp. It is still illegal to grow without a license.