Florida Hemp Stakeholders Mull How To Develop Trade In Large Bend

Proponents of the burgeoning hemp industry in North Florida say it could be taken to the next level, but it needs a boost. Local growers and processors strive to raise their profile with suggestions ranging from raising grower awareness to the prospect of setting up a new processing facility in the area.

Graham and Kelsi Hartsfield own Double H Hemp, a small hemp farm in Tallahassee. They walk through between their potted hemp plants on a hot summer day and indicate a bloom on the top of one of their plants.

“As you mature, that part gets bigger and that’s what you chop and trim,” says Graham Hartsfield.

Robbie Gaffney

Some of the hemp plants on the Hartsfield farm started to flower early. The plant pictured here has a bud at its tip.

2020 was the first year Florida farmers could obtain a license to grow hemp. And the Hartsfields took the opportunity. Once their hemp was done, they chopped and trimmed each bud.

“You have no idea how many hours I’ve been behind a pair of scissors,” says Hartsfield.

This year they want to sell CBD oil. To do this, they have to take their hemp to a processing facility. And while there’s one nearby in Hamilton County, they may not be able to afford the processing fee. Hartsfield says this is a challenge for small hemp farmers like her.

“The farmers who did this can’t bet the farm on it. I have more land to grow this stuff, but would it be wise the question is. Would it be profitable? What is my reason for expanding? I’m not doing this right now because it’s a wildcat industry, “says Hartsfield.

Pictured here are Kelsi and Graham Hartsfield.

Robbie Gaffney

Kelsi and Graham Hartsfield plan to harvest their hemp in mid-October this year. Your goal is to convert the plant into CBD oil for sale.

Green Point Research is a hemp producer that owns the Hamilton County processing facility. CEO is David Hasenauer. He says that not all small farms can afford their fee, but they try to help anyone who gets in their way.

“You help them and give them the best possible prices, but sometimes you just try to stick a square pen in a round hole where there is a better way if your goal is to grow hemp and make money. And we want them to know, “says Hasenauer.

Hasenauer also says that parts of the hemp industry in the region go untapped.

“We really only saw the development of the CBD cannabinoid side of the business,” says Hasenauer.

He says the fiber side of the industry will be left out. Hemp can be processed into fibers for building materials. But having the equipment to do it is expensive.

“You are going to need someone who is investing probably close to $ 20 million in what is known as a decortication facility, which is the first phase of fiber processing. And it’s just a daunting undertaking. But we’re looking at this … and we have a few our devices have been multifunctionally adapted for long-term use in this area, but we have not yet reached our goal, “says Hasenauer.

The Apalachee Regional Planning Council, which oversees counties in Florida’s Big Bend, is hoping to attract a processing facility that can turn hemp into fiber. But Melissa Franklin of the group says there must be enough farmers growing hemp to support this facility.

“It’s one of those chicken or egg things. Farmers will be reluctant to go online if they aren’t sure they can reach a processor. And processors will be reluctant to go online if they’re not sure they’ll have the farmers, “says Franklin.

Franklin says if the fiber side of hemp can gain a foothold in the area it will help diversify the local economy. She points to the area’s logging industry, which was devastated during Hurricane Michael, and says many of these farmers are still recovering. Her group hopes that these timber farmers can switch to hemp.

“You can get the same amount of pulp from 16 weeks of hemp growth as you can from eight years of tree growth. So it’s a much faster return on investment for you,” Franklin says.

Back at the Hartsfield farm, Graham Hartsfield says farmers need an incentive to grow hemp.

“Maybe the state will provide some kind of funding for farmers to grow this on small plots,” says Hartsfield.

Hartsfield also says the state could set up a website connecting hemp sellers with buyers. He says the region needs more education to get people on board.

“We have to educate the farmers. You have to convince the farmers why you should grow this plant,” says Hartsfield.

Meanwhile, hemp industry stakeholders like Hasenauer say Florida’s hemp industry just takes time.