By George Willoughby
The North Carolina Cooperative Extension office in Person County hosted a Hemp Field Tour at Source Hemp NC in Roxboro Wednesday.
Source Hemp NC is owned by Calvin Whitfield and has been producing hemp since 2017. In January, the company partnered with Open Book Extracts to provide wholesale supply, white labeling, private labeling, and contract manufacturing of CBD oil and infused products.
Wednesday’s event was open to the public and set out to provide information and resources for current and potential local hemp farmers.
The tour featured speakers from Open Book, N.C. State University, N.C. Crop Improvement and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.
Dr. Bill Foote, Executive Director of the N.C. Crop Improvement Association, spoke to visitors about the need for certified seeds in the hemp industry.
Foote explained that certified seed is important because it is produced to uniform standards to produce a known pedigree and minimize genetic drift. To do this, seed certifying agencies test seed quality and claims and keep strict documentation on them.
Foote said there is currently no certified hemp seed being produced in North Carolina.
The language of the 2014 Farm Bill allowed states to create hemp pilot programs, which North Carolina did. However, hemp remained a Schedule I drug under DEA authority. Therefore, growers had to register with the DEA. It also meant that seeds (still a Schedule I drug) could not be transported across state lines.
The 2018 Farm Bill fixed this for growers, removing industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it is no longer considered a Schedule I drug and seeds can be moved across state lines.
Foote said that seed producers and certification are key to hemp’s production.
“Nothing helps your business better than true character of your seed supplier,” he said. “Ask your seed supplier questions and if they can’t answer then you shouldn’t buy from them.”
Certified seeds are identified by a blue certification label issued by the certifying agency.
Dr. Keith Edmisten, a professor in the N.C. State Department of Crop and Soil Sciences told growers on the tour there are many problems and risks for industrial hemp farmers, including disease and high THC levels. The THC level for hemp must be below 0.3 percent. In comparison, the THC levels in marijuana smoked for the high are around 10 percent.
Edmisten said hemp is susceptible to a variety of diseases.
“It has more diseases than any plant I’ve worked with,” he said.
Farmers are also limited in what they can use on their crop.
The EPA has not approved any pesticides or herbicides for use on hemp, Edmisten explained.
He also offered a word of caution for growers.
“Be careful where you get your advice,” he said. “Just because someone is in Colorado doesn’t make them an expert on hemp just like being in Mississippi doesn’t make someone a cotton expert. And hemp doesn’t defy any of the rules… it’s still a plant.”
Foote compared the new hemp production possibilities to a previous period in American history.
“It’s almost like the corn industry in the early 1900s – it’s the wild west out there.”
Open Book Extracts
CEO Dave Neundorfer explained that Open Book Extracts is trying to bring transparency to the new industry.
To do this, Open Book is bringing full vertical integration to their production from selection of seeds and their genetics through the final formulated product, Neundorfer said.
“A lot of companies talk about traceability – we’re going above and beyond,” he said. “We can tell you exactly where each product was grown, what field, what farmer and we could even tell you how much rainfall they got. We keep that level of traceability throughout the process of extraction, post-processing, product formulation all the way until it is bottled, sealed and ready to go out the door.”
Open Book puts scannable QR codes on their product to provide that information to its customers.
Neundorfer says Open Book is putting the traceability into their products because he believes it is good for the market and because it is what clients and consumers will want in the absence of any trusted brands in the market.
He said the tour was an aspect of the openness they look to provide.
“I think what’s beautiful about this event today is that Calvin and his team are opening up all of their fields and as he said ‘we’re going to show you the good, the bad and the ugly’ and the bad and the ugly are to help other farmers learn how to best grow hemp,” Neundorfer said. “Our philosophy is that more sharing that can happen across a broader network then the faster we’re going to learn and get better.”
Open Book Extracts has 20 farms in its network – 16 in North Carolina, two in Virginia, one in Colorado and one in California.
The broad network allows the farmers to spread knowledge across the country and learn from each other.
“We’re not only sharing from farm to farm in North Carolina or from North Carolina to Virginia, but we’re also paying attention to what the guys in Colorado are doing who are watering in a very different way and planting in a very different formation,” Neundorfer said. “It is a national network with a nucleus here in North Carolina.”
Neundorfer operates his own hemp farm in Person County and Open Book Extracts recently opened its own good manufacturing practices and FDA food grade processing facility on Lucy Garrett Road that will begin taking in raw products soon.
Open Book is currently wholesaling to retailers and brands. Their current brands are Woven Earth and Chill Switch.
Neundorfer said Open Book has plans for significant expansion. He said the processing facility has the potential for increased scale and capacity and all of their farmers are utilizing around 10 percent of their overall farms for Open Book.
“What we’re hoping to do is demonstrate that we’re a great long-term partner for farmers and we can expand through our existing list of partners in how much they grow or grow for us, but also into new farms and farmers that, ideally, have hemp growing experience,” Neundorfer said.
So what’s the deal?
North Carolina Farm Bureau Public Policy Director Shawn Harding said North Carolina is still operating under the rules it established for the pilot program, and the current pending Farm Act would cement those rules into law.
Any individuals wishing to grow hemp must submit an application for the pilot program which includes Schedule F of their tax return to prove they have farming income. Applicants must provide the specific variety of industrial hemp and its origin, a written statement of their research objective, how may acres of hemp they wish to produce as well as how much greenhouse space they will use.
Harding said there is currently around 1,300 licensed growers with about 15,000 registered acres of hemp in North Carolina.
Harding explained that the Food and Drug Administration will need to create regulations for the hemp products that are being produced. He noted that the market has exploded so quickly that products in the market are without regulation.
Harding said that he had heard there is around eight times the amount of hemp being produced than the market can handle. However, he said that overproduction is not uncommon.
“The question will be how economically viable the crop is and we’re too early in the market to know,” Harding said.
He said it’s hard to know the future of hemp.
“I’ll tell you, I have never seen anything as hot and exciting as hemp,” Harding said. “There have been crops that have come into the market hot and fizzled out, but I’m not sure hemp is going away.”
Harding echoed Foote’s earlier comparison.
“There are a lot of unknowns for the future,” he said.