Will Greeley be the epicenter of Colorado industrial hemp?
Kevin Edmundson and Joe Molina are dead serious about creating an industrial hemp epicenter near the Greeley Weld County Airport. They believe their technology for separating the outer bark of the plant, called the blast, from the woody interior, the hurd, is vastly superior as the first step in the industrial process. They believe they can help attract other, downstream, industrial processors to the area where products ranging from building products, clothes and even hemp milk will become a reality.
“The hemp you grow in the high mountain states is far superior to anything you could grow in Florida,” declared Edmundson, who recently returned here from the sunshine state. “The problem with hemp you grow in other places is the mold,” he said, noting that mold ruins the tensile strength of the blast, which in historic times created the long strands of thin fibers, suitable for the rope and canvas that sailed the world’s navies.
The idea for creating a business park around hemp is somewhat intoxicating. The partners believe that transporting bulk bales of hemp for industrial use farther than 150 miles is too expensive and that transportation costs are also problematic for downstream producers, as well.
“Bringing in the right people is critical,” Molina said. “We want to be the ones bringing them in and helping these entrepreneurs.”
But industrial hemp faces the same hurdles across the nation. Along with marijuana it was made illegal in 1937, so the infrastructure and supply chains necessary to actually create affordable products is long since gone. Replacing those two critical elements will take money, and finding that money may be difficult in an unproven industry.
The partners’ company, Global Property Management, is seeking initial funding of about $10 million. The company they hope to license the sonar technology from is also seeking funding.
But this is fairly typical for Philip McCready, economic development manager in the department of Economic Health and Housing for the city of Greeley, who at a meeting on the topic proudly linked the reporter to a 2020 story in “Cannabis & Tech Today” labeling Greeley as the “epicenter” of Northern Colorado hemp. It may well be, but if not it won’t be for lack of effort by McCready and Benjamin Snow, director of Economic Health and Housing.
McCready heads two hemp working groups, one of which is concentrating on creating a hemp business park; the other is working on bioplastics.
“They do a lot to link us to all possible partners,” laughed Daniel Falk, the chief operating officer for Dama Distributing LLC, which wholesales material for 100% hemp-made compostable bioplastics. The company contracts for the production of the pellets, or nurdles, that are commonly in the plastics industry dominated by petroleum-based products.
Falk said the Denver company is seriously considering locating a processing facility in Greeley, with the fermentation tanks that produce the nurdles. Its process is almost one of a kind in the hemp industry, because it can take hemp of almost any origin, including the waste of CBD plants once the buds are removed, to make plastic.
“The thing is that for some products, we might have to change the ratio of blast to hurd,” said Falk, noting that would require having nearby primary processing or creating their own processing. “We will also have our own biowaste,” said Falk, adding that having A1 Organics nearby creates another strategic partner in the Greeley location.
Dama is already a revenue positive firm, with about $1 million in annual revenue, Falk said. The processing facility will require about $20 million to $30 million in funding, depending on whether an existing building can be renovated.
So while funding is still a key issue, it appears the Snow/McCready effort to link all possible partners in hemp together may be the right plan for recreating the hemp industry in Colorado. The office also supports the Colorado Hemp Industries Coalition, CHIC, a coalition of private companies and government groups working together to build the hemp industries of the future.
Greeley does have one of the most successful CBD plants in Colorado, Vantage Hemp, a pharmaceutical grade CBD producer.
“That’s a $40 million plant that has succeeded while others have fallen aside,” Snow said. The CBD producer also employs more than 100 people in the Greeley area and was brought to town without any tax incentives, McCready said.
Greeley does have some very distinct advantages for industrial hemp processors. The agri-business community in Greeley is second to none in Colorado, and naturally there are lenders who are also well versed in the field.
Growers are also used to working with the Colorado State University extension office, which together with the university’s ag experts is helping lead the nation in exploring hemp production.
See related story – Acreage down, but Colorado not done with hemp