H

emp may become the new cash crop in Jackson County.

Sadly, it looks like we may need a new cash crop to replace our current champion crop.

Hemp is cousin of marijuana, and became illegal in this country due to that cousin’s black eye. For decades it has been illegal to grow, but if you look back to the country’s roots you might be surprised to find that in some places, such as colonial Virginia, by law farmers were required to grow it.

That’s because hemp is a versatile and valuable industrial crop. It can be used to make rope, sails, paper, biofuel, plastic composites and clothing. Its oil is now a commonly used treatment for achy joints.

Unlike marijuana, it doesn’t deliver a high. However, hemp ran afoul of a campaign targeting marijuana, largely fueled by misinformation, competing economic interests and plain old racism in the early years of the last century and was generally lumped in with its cannabis cousin.

The North Carolina General Assembly has stepped in to address the issue. Last week the Senate passed a measure designed to help grow the state’s hemp industry.

However, the bill is part of the annual farm package and contains other measures that could stir controversy.

One issue surrounding hemp creating a fair amount of debate: what to do regarding smokable hemp. It doesn’t deliver a high, but it has the smell and appearance of marijuana, creating a conundrum for law enforcement officials in a state where marijuana is still illegal.

On the flip side, smokable hemp can garner $1,000 a pound.

All in all, however, hemp looks like a crop worth pursuing. And climate change may make that more urgent than ever.

One crop that could be particularly susceptible to climate change is the crown jewel of Jackson County farming, the Christmas tree. North Carolina ranks No. 2 in the nation in Christmas tree production, with sales generating around $100 million a year.

Jackson ranks fifth in North Carolina in Christmas tree production and 11th in the nation, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture County Profile. It’s by far the most lucrative crop here, with about $7 million in sales according to the latest figures. The county has 2,009 acres in cultivated Christmas trees.

Fraser firs are known as the “Cadillac’’ of Christmas trees. They evolved in high-elevation areas in cool, moist conditions.

The confined range and growing conditions for Fraser firs put them at high risk in a changing climate. As with some questions regarding climate change, it’s uncertain how the crop might respond to warmer, drier conditions. Two things are certain, though.

One, unless the mountains grow taller, Frasers will run out of range if warmer conditions climb up the mountains; and two, farming is always risky. But it becomes even riskier if you’re sinking thousands upon thousands of dollars in a planting investment that might not be recouped in 10 years.

It will be a tragedy if our Christmas trees are imperiled. A fallback crop could help soften the blow.

North Carolina is making right moves when it comes to hemp.