By Heather Collins
Despite hemp fiber’s boundless opportunities, experts indicated during last week’s 3rd Annual Winter Hemp Summit, produced by We Are For Better Alternatives (WAFBA) and powered by NoCo Hemp Expo, that more work needs to be done in the field and on the manufacturing level in order for hemp fiber to succeed.
“We need to look at what matters to the farmer. If the farmer can’t make any money, it doesn’t matter if our companies are turning a profit because, at the end of the day, they won’t be able to supply what’s needed to survive,” said Andrew Bish, CMO of Nebraska-based Bish Enterprises, a leading provider of farm and harvest machinery and specialist in hemp crop production.
Marketplace advancement and economic recovery were a common thread that weaved its way into the conversation amongst the panel of industry pioneers.
“Drive around North Carolina, you will see a lot of shut down cotton and synthetic industry mills,” said Madison Sexton, Founder and CEO of Hem Mills. Sexton who started Hem Mills, a hemp-focused textile manufacturer based in North Carolina is passionate about revitalizing the hemp fiber industry. “With our hemp capabilities, we will breathe new life into those closed mills and position the U.S. to become a major global exporter once again in textiles,” added Sexton.
Hemp Fiber Gains Momentum
Ed Lehrburger, Founder, CEO and President of PureHemp Technology, who moderated the panel, acknowledged the challenges a company must endure to remain competitive and prosperous.
Lehrburger’s company specializes in creating products with hemp paper and most recently announced plans to create hemp packaging. “It’s not easy to start a new business in a new market and make things happen and be successful,” said Lehrburger. “Fortunately, these entrepreneurs have forged ahead with different ideas with different technologies and are leading the way for the [hemp fiber] industry.”
Another panelist, entrepreneur Mike McGuire, Founder and Owner of Oklahoma-based Western Fiber says, “It’s all about the timing.” McGuire, who has been a part of the industrial hemp community for several decades, is collaborating with farmers to create innovative building solutions using hemp. “We’ve been waiting for the fiber industry to come back, and the good news is that after so many years it’s finally happening. We have enough fiber leftover from last season to get started in the marketplace this year and hopefully, you’ll see some trials for our hemp insulation soon.”
For panelist Greg Wilson, his Murray, Kentucky-based HempWood company is experiencing significant growth. Despite the pandemic, demand has been building for Wilson’s hemp-based wood alternative company with expansion plans in Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Europe.
“We’ve got an incredible amount of tailwind, and we just need to get our HempWood product into mainstream hands beyond just being a hemp specialty product,” said Wilson. “We’re getting calls from architects, designers, and large commercial build-outs from all over the world – that’s pretty wild for this little company in West Kentucky! But it’s basically if you build it, they will come.”
Hemp Fiber + Hemp Grain
With all the talk about hemp fiber, the panelists agreed that hemp grain also can help the hemp industry succeed by building out the market and making use of the whole hemp plant.
“If we want to get the fiber market going, we have to be able to get the grain market going and legalize hemp grain for animals,” added Bish. “To make this crop grow and make farmers money, we need to have more than one marketplace beyond just our hemp fiber companies because it’s not enough to sustain thousands of farmers. If we can do grain – we can do more.”
Wilson and Lehrburger agree and hope that state regulators and government officials open up the animal feed market to hemp. Currently there are national government restrictions in place on the use of hemp in animal feed, something that industry leaders hope changes in the next year.
“The key is hemp-based animal grain, as it’s more commercially viable for our industry,” noted Wilson. “I would like to see the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) wrap their heads around it. There is an opportunity for poultry where farmers and producers can fetch a significantly higher value for hemp-fed chickens and eggs. It’s just a matter of time in getting [hemp grain] secured in this country.”
For a complete recording of the hemp fiber session at the 3rd Annual Winter Hemp Summit Virtual Conference & Networking Event, visit the Winter Hemp Summit website and register to gain access to exclusive Summit content, NoCo Hemp Expo archive footage, Keynote Speakers and more. Watch on demand now through January 31, 2021. Registration also includes a copy of the Let’s Talk Hemp Media Sponsored ‘Hemp Industry 2021 Opportunities Report’ (a $149 value.)
# # #
Heather Collins is an Account Manager for Compass Natural Marketing and has been working in communications and marketing in the natural products industry for the past twenty years. Compass Natural serves in PR and programming for NoCo Hemp Expo and Southern Hemp Expo. Collins serves as a Contributing Writer of the weekly Let’s Talk Hemp Newsletter, published by We are for Better Alternatives. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.