Industrial Hemp Arrives in WA

November 18, 2017  /  by Kristofer Plunkett

Join Cascadia Hemp Co. founder Kris Plunkett as he shares experiences from his first year with industrial hemp. What started as a serendipitous conversation with a friend turned into a new life focus and an adventure taking him from central Washington, to the western slopes of Colorado, and even to the heart of Kentucky. This timeline parallels Washington State’s first year growing hemp under the state’s new industrial hemp pilot program. See how these two stories unfolded, what’s in store for the future, and learn about just some of the ways that hemp is such an amazing resource.

Hemp Can Do … Just About Anything

Perhaps the most rewarding part of this journey so far has been the opportunity to mingle with others who are deeply committed to making the world a better place. It’s inspiring to connect with those who share the same vision for a healthier, cleaner, and more prosperous future by empowering people to take action to better themselves and their communities. More than hemp itself, it’s the building of relationships with these dedicated and hard-working people that makes joining this movement so fulfilling.

In the beginning, to be honest, I felt a bit embarrassed not to have known about industrial hemp. That something so important had stayed out of my gaze up until now is testament to the effectiveness of our government’s efforts to keep this plant out of the public light. True that the conversation around marijuana cannabis is more complicated, given that it induces psychotropic effects, but the only things hemp cannabis ever hurt were the bottom lines of the companies behind its polluting competitors. When these companies colluded with our government in the 1930s, they launched a racist propaganda campaign targeting minority groups that turned mainstream western culture against cannabis. With one stroke the entire cannabis plant, in all its forms and for all its uses, was sent into a nearly 60-year total prohibition by the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act. However, then as in now, there exists no logic that justifies ever banning cannabis grown for its industrial or purely medicinal purposes. Not only does it provide the raw material for an astounding array of applications, but its cultivation is beneficial to the land it grows on and for the environment in general.

Cannabis began its journey back into the mainstream when California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, but oddly it would be nearly another two decades before hemp would find its way back into U.S. soil. Colorado boldly planted the first crop in 2013, one year before Congress added a provision to the 2014 Farm Bill that grants states the right to grow hemp under their own “industrial hemp research pilot” programs. WA passed its hemp legislation in 2016 and began work on creating rules for its own hemp pilot program. The state would be ready to accept applications for licenses by spring 2017, just in time for the growing season.

Face glued to my laptop screen for many an hour, the world of industrial hemp unfolded before me with every click. I wasn’t sure exactly what to do about what I was learning, but I knew “nothing” simply wasn’t an option.

Cascadia Hemp Co. prototype logo (ca. Feb. 2017)

Who knew hemp could make so many different things?

Off to Yakima!

Variety of hemp products at the industrial hemp networking event in Yakima on Mar. 4th, 2017

A sampling of products made of hemp at the industrial hemp networking event in Yakima, courtesy of Joy Beckerman with Hemp Ace International.

After learning that industrial hemp was coming to WA this very year, I couldn’t wait to meet the people working to make that happen. So in March I talked my friend James into joining me for a trip to an industrial hemp networking event in Yakima, where a couple dozen or so curious farmers and entrepreneurs came to hear Joy Beckerman, the expert behind Hemp Ace International, Jedidiah Haney, a long-time cannabis activist, and Emily Febles, the now former head of the WSDA hemp program, talk about the future of hemp in WA. They came with good news and bad news. The good news was that the state’s program was especially careful to comply with all federal requirements, which grants farmers several important benefits, such as access to banking, federal loans, and water rights. The bad news was that there would be high licensing and testing fees, and that turning a profit from a hemp crop would not be easy. Farmers would need to experiment with varieties that might work with their climate, and even those with successful crops may have a hard time finding a market for their harvest. Another obstacle would be the required four-mile barrier between hemp fields and marijuana fields, which is intended to prevent cross-pollination but limits where hemp can be grown. Worst case, a farmer’s crop tests above the 0.3% THC state and federal limit and would need to be destroyed. Nonetheless, Cory Sharp and Shane Palmer presented their company, HempLogic, as ready to contract with farmers and provide a source of imported certified seed, an unpleasant process that involves working with the DEA and dealing with virtually guaranteed shipping delays. It seemed the stage was set for industrial hemp to be grown in WA for the first time in over 70 years.

Hempcrete … it’s pretty much magic

The next (un)fortunate victim of my newfound interest was my dad, who I took with me to a hempcrete workshop hosted by Joy Beckerman and the experts behind Hemp Technologies, a company responsible for building the first hempcrete homes in the U.S. Together we learned that hempcrete, which is a simple mixture of hemp hurd (the woody core of the plant’s stalk), a lime binder, and water, is a cost-effective and eco-friendly insulating material that can be used to build hyper efficient homes. Not only does hempcrete trap (sequester) the carbon captured while the hemp was growing, but the lime used to make it continues to take carbon from the atmosphere after construction is done, making hemp a potent ingredient in the fight to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, while hempcrete boasts an extremely high insulation rating, allegedly allowing some homes to remain at 60°F during all seasons with no heating or cooling, walls built with the material are breathable and thus regulate humidity while also being highly resistant to mold, rot, and fire. After some top-notch education, we got to make our very own hempcrete bricks to take home.

Read more about hempcrete in this great post by Green Building Canada.

Keith Plunkett, dad to Cascadia Hemp Co. founder Kris Plunkett, at the Hempcrete Workshop by HempAce in Seattle, WA on Mar. 14th, 2017

Dad proudly showing off his new brick of hempcrete

Our collection of hempcrete bricks from the workshop

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” -Benjamin Franklin

I had heard about Oregon State University’s Industrial Hemp course offered through its online Ecampus program and thought it would be a great way to gain a breadth of knowledge on the subject. I decided to enroll for spring quarter and wasn’t disappointed. Lectures covered everything from hemp’s long history from ancient times up to prohibition, botany of the cannabis plant, breeding new varieties, processing for grain and fiber, as well as the full gamut of the plant’s uses, including food, textiles, cosmetics and body care products, paints and sealers, paper, biofuel, and a wide range of construction material. It was also interesting reading about the connections other students in the class had with hemp history. Some even told of ancestors that grew hemp for WWII. For the final creativity project I whipped up a website called Cascadia Hemp Project and published a post about hemp paper cups; the very subject that catalyzed my interest in hemp. Overall the class, which was created by world-renowned hemp expert Anndrea Hermann, was a worthwhile experience and reaffirmed that I was on the right track.

The Hemp Road Trip visits Seattle

May saw the arrival of a special guest in Seattle: Rick Trojan and his entourage from the Hemp Road Trip came to town to talk about industrial hemp at the Cannabis Grand Cru event and then visit the state capitol. I was happy to host Rick’s videographer, DJ Nicke (Zeitlos Media), and DJ’s wife Sandy. Together the three traveled across the country educating citizens and lawmakers about what industrial hemp is, what it is not, and why allowing farmers to grow the crop makes sense. Their goal this year was to capture enough video material to produce a full feature-length documentary, slated to come out next year. Check out their offical teaser.

During that same weekend I invited friends over for a hemp-themed BBQ to enjoy the nice spring weather and check out some of the hemp products that I had accumulated by then, which included Dr. Bronner’s soaps, Hempz lotions, Merry Hempsters lip balm, hemp protein powder; hearts; and seed oil from Nutiva and Manitoba Harvest, a journal made of hemp paper from Green Field Paper Company, various shirts and other examples of hemp fiber, and of course my very own hempcrete blocks. There was even hemp butter, a lipstick made with hemp seed oil, and a card 3D printed with hemp resin. It was a fun opportunity to show off the great diversity of things that can be made with hemp while sharing some hemp fare, such as this delicious hemp seed pesto and this hemp seed hummus.

“Hempy” the Hemp Road Trip bus spotted in Seattle

A collection of various hemp products at the hemp BBQ

“How to Farm Hemp & the Many Hemp Industries”

Cory Sharp (above) and Shane Palmer (below) with HempLogic describe how they plan to plant and cultivate hemp on this field in Moses Lake, WA

On June 6th the WA Hemp Industries Association, with sponsorship from HempLogic and Hemp Ace International, organized another hemp educational event, this time in Moses Lake. Though the talks by the experts were highly informative, the real treat of the day was a trip to a nearby field to witness the first planting of industrial hemp in WA in over 90 years. The group caravaned over and gathered on the approximately five acre plot, where Shane Palmer had already prepared a drill machine for planting certified hemp seed. After a brief explanation of the planting process and a short Q&A, Shane hooked up the drill machine to his tractor and drove a ceremonious lap down to the end of the field and back, the drill machine poking holes in the soil and filling them with tiny hemp seeds along the way. We marveled as we took in the implications of such humble beginnings. Hemp in WA was actually happening!

Later that month Capital Press, a newspaper and media organization covering agriculture in the western U.S., published this article summarizing the state of hemp in WA, with these key takeaways:

  • HempLogic is contracting with farmers to plant 115 acres of hemp in WA this year, while WSU is using a license to test several different varieties of hemp.
  • Unlike Oregon, extracting the cannbinoid known as canabidiol (CBD) from hemp is not allowed in WA under current rules, hampering the crop’s short-term profit potential.
  • As farmers were warned before, fees are high and regulations strict, imposing additional barriers and risks to growing a crop that may already be difficult to sell.
  • Despite the challenges, the market for hemp products in the U.S. has seen substantial growth in recent years, offering first-mover advantage to what will likely become a booming domestic hemp industry.

Hemp on the Western Slopes of Colorado

A young hemp plot at the Salt Creek Hemp Co. ranch in July, 2017. Hemp plants grown for CBD are given generous spacing so they can become big and bushy to grow many dense flowers. The process is similar to cultivating marijuana, except that instead of THC the flowers yield the non-psychotropic and medicinally beneficial CBD, used by patients to alleviate a wide array of symptoms.

In July, the next leg of my hemp adventure took me to Colorado, where I joined Rick Trojan and “Hempy” the Hemp Road Trip bus on their journey from Denver to Collbran; a small town in Plateau Valley (near Grand Junction) that has become the epicenter for industrial hemp in the western part of the state. There the folks behind the Salt Creek Hemp Co. and the Colorado Hemp Company hosted the second rendition of their Hemp on the Slope event. The hosts behind the event, including ranch owners Margaret MacKenzie, mom Fran MacKenzie, husband Aaron Rydell, and long-time friend Joe Koeller, were about as friendly and generous as folks come. Together they organized an event packed with all the latest updates on the hemp industry in Colorado, complete with an expo that included many prominent Colorado-based hemp businesses and organizations, including:

Looking westward from the Salt Creek Hemp Co. ranch, a summer storm rolls through Plateau Valley

Our hosts were kind enough to give us a tour of their hemp plot, where they were growing a CBD-rich variety. The crop, which was still young but looking healthy (see pictures above and right), was their second attempt at growing industrial hemp. Unfortunately, last year’s attempt ended awry when the test results from the state claimed that the crop contained 0.4% THC, just barely above the 0.3% federal and CO state limit. I would come to learn that two major obstacles for hemp farmers in CO (and elsewhere in the U.S.) is that test labs are still notoriously inconsistent (two of the same sample sent to the same lab can produce very different results) and that the 0.3% state limit is enshrined in Colorado’s state constitution. This means it will be difficult to raise the state limit if and when the federal limit is raised. End result for Salt Creek Hemp Co? Their entire crop had to be destroyed. It was a major setback for the team but clearly did not derail their ambitions. I can happily report that this year’s crop tested below the limit and was harvested successfully. Go Salt Creek Hemp Co.!

A panel of industrial hemp entrepreneurs, regulators, and experts give updates on industrial hemp in Mesa County and Colorado

Rick’s favorite place to spend the night when traveling with Hempy

A healthy young hemp plant on the Salt Creek Hemp Co. ranch

Interlude: How’s hemp in WA going?

I touched base with Cory to see how the hemp crops were doing back in WA. This picture says it all.

Cory Sharp from HempLogic standing in a hemp field in WA

Cory Sharp standing in a lusciously green field of industrial hemp contracted by his company, HempLogic, in central WA

Getting Down to Hemp Business in the Bluegrass State

Welcome poster for HIACON ’17

While the first day was dedicated to updates by HIA national and chapter leadership, the next day entailed a bus field trip first to the University of Kentucky’s nearby hemp test plots, where researchers gave poster presentations followed by lunch, and then to visit two companies heavily engaged in growing the hemp industry in KY, Atalo Holdings and GenCanna. We were treated to a tour first of their hemp fields and then of their facilities. At the Atalo campus our hosts served an outdoor dinner with live music while guests explored the grounds. Intriguingly, they had set up an expeller press machine outdoors and were using it to press four different kinds of hemp seeds into oil. The four unfiltered oils all had distinct colors and tastes affected by the variety of hemp and environment in which the crop was cultivated. Our hosts were especially generous in giving each attendee a parting gift of three small bottles of CBD-rich hemp extract from GenCanna, each with a whopping 250 mg of CBD. We were also given a glimpse of Atalo’s proprietary drying system. Dubbed “Big Blue,” the system gives the company year-round shelf stable hemp flower to extract CBD from, alleviating a major problem in their production process. I sure learned a lot this day.

An expeller press machine at the Atalo Holdings facility pressing four different varieties of hemp seed into oil for guests to taste

I’m famous in Kentucky! Sort of.

The cherry on the hemp cake was my visit to Lexington, KY for the annual Hemp Industries Association (HIA) conference (HIACON). The HIA is the largest industrial hemp trade association in the U.S. and has been fighting for the fair reintroduction of hemp as an agricultural crop since 1994. Kentucky, which has a long and rich history with hemp, is at the forefront of the movement and boasts one of the largest acreages of hemp in the U.S., so it’s only natural that the conference would be here. Lexington is a beautiful city with heritage visible in the colonial architecture, the many surrounding fields of green (many with horses roaming), and of course the dizzying variety of bourbons. I told a waitress on the first night that I should probably try some good Kentucky bourbon. She replied, “Well honey, we have 156 different kinds.” There was certainly no mistaking where I was.

Cascadia Hemp Co. founder Kris Plunkett happily standing in front of a University of Kentucky industrial hemp test plot

The remaining two days were dedicated to talks, networking, and the expo. While it was clear that every aspect of industrial hemp needed significant work, including in agronomy, harvesting, processing, science, and policy, the primary focus was on growing the markets for hemp products. There simply is no industry without demand, and despite the hemp market growing by double digits for the last five years, most people still don’t know the difference between hemp and marijuana and how they can benefit from consuming and using hemp products. Some highlights from the talks I attended:

  • Anndrea Hermann gave an update on industrial hemp in Canada, where the body responsible for regulating industrial hemp, Health Canada, in November 2016 simplified the licensing and regulatory requirements, including removing the minimum acreage requirement, allowing one license to cover all of an applicant’s sites, and even eliminating in-field THC testing for approved cultivars, proving again that Canada is miles ahead of the U.S. when it comes to reintegrating industrial hemp.
  • Sean Murphy with the Hemp Business Journal presented slides (available online) on hemp industry economics, noting that most hemp in the U.S. is grown for CBD, hemp fiber price is still too high to compete with mainstream fibers, and overall the hemp industry is expected to continue its significant growth trend, expected to reach around $1.8 billion by 2020 (up from $668 million in 2016). I also learned that I’m a LOHAS consumer. Are you one, too?
  • A talk on hemp as food echoed a concern prevalent across the industry: Substantial breeding work is still needed to acquire the stable genetics necessary to create consistent products. For example, the ratio of oil to protein in hemp seed currently varies considerably across varieties of hemp, making it difficult to produce accurate nutrition labels.
  • A rather dizzying talk on extraction processes (the guy really knew his stuff) included topics like supercritical vs. subcritical extraction, gaseous fluid extraction, molecular distillation, and the various solvents that can be used. I was left with one important insight: The CO2 extraction process is the only truly “green” process. So when looking for your hemp extract or CBD oil, look for CO2 extracted.

Overall HIACON was a fantastic opportunity for learning about the industry and making new friends in hemp. I certainly look forward to next year’s conference and someday bringing it to the Northwest.

Lexington was filled with amazing building art like this mural of the Lincoln Memorial

“Being a pioneer is never easy.” -Cory Sharp

So what happened with the hemp grown in WA this year? What’s in store for the future? Capital Press summarized our state’s situation in this article:

  • HempLogic successfully harvested its approximately 180 acres of hemp but is still looking for a buyer for the 70,000-80,000 pounds of harvested hemp seed. Since the seeds are viable (i.e., they could potentially be used to grow more hemp), they aren’t allowed to cross state lines without breaking federal law, and since there aren’t many facilities in the state that can process hemp seed, options are very limited.
  • The industrial hemp program in WA has run out of funding. The licensing fees paid by farmers were supposed to sustain the program but don’t come close to the amount needed. The state legislature is being asked to fund the program from the state budget.
  • Policy hurdles remain to be overcome, such as the fact that under the current rules marijuana operations take precedent over hemp farms, meaning land used to grow hemp one year cannot be used for growing hemp the next year if a marijuana operation moves within four miles. This, in addition to the steep fees and uncertain markets, might discourage farmers from trying to grow hemp.

Though exactly how the story of industrial hemp in WA will unfold is uncertain, the crop is surely here to stay. It will take entrepreneurs and activists like Joy, Cory, Shane, and Jedidiah to keep us moving forward. I’m excited to stand alongside these heroes as we continue fighting for a more sustainable and prosperous future for all of Cascadia and beyond.

HempLogic continues to pioneer industrial hemp in WA

Cascadia Hemp Co. is committed to supporting the hemp industry in WA and the greater Pacific Northwest

Thanks for reading!

-Kris

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