By now, many in the industry have heard about the chicken and egg scenario when it comes to processing hemp fiber: growers need to grow more of the crop to stimulate processing development, but they are reluctant to farm until they know a processor is available. But this year, significant steps were taken to address this issue and restore processing capacity in the United States.
In the November issue of Hemp producerNew Frontier data analyst Eric Singular wrote that regional infrastructure and investment capital around hemp fiber has increased this year. New Frontier Data predicts that the U.S. hemp fiber market will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.5% over the next five years to reach $ 77.7 million by 2025.
“Over the past 12 months, a handful of regional fiber processors have innovated, including South Bend Industrial Hemp in Kansas, IND Hemp in Montana, BioPhil Natural Fibers in Pennsylvania, and Formation Ag in Colorado,” Singular wrote.
There are many obstacles to building the infrastructure necessary to create the thousands of possible products from hemp stalk, which is made up of both bast (the real “fiber”) and hurd. In addition to this chicken and egg scenario, the technology needed to create products can range from simple, like decorating the stem for products like animal litter, to complex, like shelling, cleaning, and packing. degumming for products such as textiles.
Another challenge compounded by a few processors has been the lack of material specifications, growing standards, and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for planting, harvesting, retting or baling hemp stalks, Singular wrote. He noted, however, that some processors are working to change this by partnering with farmers to test different varieties of fiber.
With so many challenges, companies dedicated to the industry have had to get creative in establishing a processing infrastructure. Many started with the first stage of husking.
South Bend Industrial Hemp, for example, is aiming for vertical integration by growing its own hemp in addition to processing. In 2021, the company cultivated 1,500 plants for CBD as well as 160 acres of hemp for the production of fiber and dual-use grains. “The more we talked about people, the more we [knew there were] growers who want to expand and manufacturers who want to put in hemp lines, but there was nothing to connect those two pieces, ”said Melissa Baldwin, co-owner of South Bend Industrial Hemp. in HG’s July cover. “So we started to calculate the numbers and [decided to] continue our own processing facility.
Santa Fe Farms, the New Mexico-based subject of HGThe August 2021 cover story is another company working to establish growth and processing capabilities for a vertically integrated operation that can deliver hemp-based solutions to giants like Amazon and Coca-Cola. .
On the other hand, companies like Dallas-based Panda Biotech are focused on processing and instead work to support local farmers. The company announced in May that it was donating more than 60 tonnes of approved hemp fiber seeds to growers in Texas to “[seed] Texas industrial hemp industry, ”said Scott Evans, executive vice president of Panda Biotech, in the press release at the time.
Other companies have looked to outside investment – the Alabama-based industrial hemp fiber processing, manufacturing and technology company, for example, announced that it had received $ 2.8 million in funding for its first round of venture capital funding in April.
Outside agencies and organizations have also been helpful in getting fiber processing started in 2021. Some agriculture departments, like the one in Missouri, are offering grants to do just that. In October, the state announced it was offering up to $ 200,000 in grants for hemp fiber processors, with up to $ 700,000 available. The grant was created to support the state’s hemp fiber industry, according to the Department of Agriculture’s website, as well as to increase fiber processing capacity and address issues in the supply chain. ‘supply.
Also in October, the National Hemp Association (NHA) announced its ambitious goal of implementing fiber processing by asking for a billion dollar amendment to the national infrastructure bill. Part of that billion dollars would go to fund four “regional super sites” to build and strengthen the hemp fiber supply chain. The infrastructure bill, adopted in mid-November, did not include the requested amendment. Still, it does indicate where NHA Chairman Geoff Whaling’s head is when it comes to hemp priorities – and given that this was not his first attempt to build fiber infrastructure in the United States, this probably won’t be the last.
“By looking at creating these so-called great sites, it will allow us to really start to research how to move this industry, which is really starting from scratch,” said Whaling. HG Digital editor Eric Sandy in October. “Even though it’s frustrating and stimulating at times, it’s very exciting to say, ‘It must be what it was years ago when the steel industry players started building it. “