Industry’s roots laid bare at Hemp2020

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Overheard sometime near the end of Hemp2020 Business Summit: “I’ll get the MOU to you next week.”

As the organizer of this second annual gathering of global hemp industry leaders, there’s no greater payoff than knowing you’ve nudged the dialog — and someone’s business — a bit further down the hemp-strewn path.

Where is that path taking us? Through two days of rich presentations and spontaneous break-out meetings among the 30 or so participants who visited us at HempToday Center in Poland, something of a roadmap emerged:

Technology & innovation

The fast-growing need for hemp farming and processing technology presents a unique business opportunity for innovative entrepreneurs and engineers who can develop dependable machines fast. Technology is needed throughout the entire value chain. And to move the industry along at an optimal pace, solutions are needed simultaneously for both small and medium enterprises as well as those operating on an industrial basis.

Those options were represented at the summit by our two German developer friends, both of whom joined Hemp2020 for the second time this year. Heinrich Wieker pulled the latest incarnation of “Henry’s Harvester,” a highly mobile harvesting unit, at 90km per hour for 13 hours to show it off and answer questions. We hadn’t expected that, but Henry had some Polish hemp fields to bring in immediately after Hemp2020 in nearby Kielce, so two birds killed.

We’ve been raving about Rafael Dulon’s Multi-Combine HC 3400 large-scale hemp harvesting technology for about the last 18 months. The Colorado delegation was impressed. And every time I watch the film I think of that machine chewing up fields of hemp across the vast American farm belt.

Hemp and health

There is huge opportunity in hemp-based superfoods, such as those which Rafael’s firm is producing from organic fields in Germany. Suffice it to say that Rafael, one of Germany’s hemp pioneers starting in the 1990s, knows something about hemp and health, and his delivery is warm and funny. He recommends, by the way, two drops of CBD in the morning, and two in the evening for a normally healthy person. I’ve started.

Speaking of health, there was a rather complex slide in Haile Selassie Tefari’s presentation with the heading: “Terpenes Cannabinoids Synergy.” This is the kind of title that can trigger an important incoming phone call for which I need to leave the room. But Haile quickly ran through the 24(!) human maladies these compounds can address . . . and on to the “Organoleptic Rainbow Wheel” then finally, after a few more technical tidbits, arriving at something I really relate to: “Hempalace EcoDomes” (already trademarked). Reflecting the fact that to stand out in the more mature French hemp building sector, segmentation is required.

No bullshit: Hemp building’s boom

Wolf Jordan said “bullshit” three times and each time got a round of applause. One of Europe’s master natural builders, Wolf is clearly the most colorful. He agreed, with little prodding, that the hemp construction industry is on the cusp of a boomlet; he’s never seen the activity in the sector – and the growing level of interest – such as it is now. And he’s been building with natural materials and teaching natural building for 25 years. The “bullshit”? For the most part it’s about the hijacking of the “green building” movement by an entrenched construction industry for whom “green” mostly means fancy ventilation systems and “smart energy” geegaws.

Community Supported Agriculture (i.e. ‘farming’)

CSA is a hot acronym in Europe, where the EU bureaucracy likes to attach fancy names to simple things. (Where I come from in Indiana, this is just called “farming” – it’s community by its very nature). But all agreed that hemp represents a special opportunity to develop local cooperatives in some form or another – grow hemp, process it and get it into the local shops – to cut down on transportation costs and reduce our carbon footprint.

There are sterling examples of this “back to community” movement based on hemp and other crops around Europe. Most delightfully in the Czech Republic – where several of our delegates traveled post-summit to the Bio-Sasov farm. That’s where Hana Gabrielova‘s company, Hempoint, is part of a larger bio-farming collective. Hempoint makes high-quality food delicacies from hemp, and Hana is one of Europe’s leading authorities in organic hemp agriculture, seed procurement, product development and markets. Hempoint is co-organizer for our Hemp2020 Summit Series.

Build stronger local hemp bonds

Strengthening bonds among farmers at the local level were also identified as critical to expanding the industry. If you haven’t seen the film from Source Hemp about the historic return of hemp to North Carolina, USA this year, look here to see some pioneering American farmers exactly as I remember them from my many days working as a reporter on small rural newspapers in Indiana and Oklahoma. This charming vignette was brought to us by Preston Whitfield, for whom North Carolina farming is a family tradition. We suggest you pay attention, and watch what happens in this old tobacco state that is insinuating hemp into the process of re-tooling its agriculture sector.

Of course the bonds and sharing are needed beyond farming, and should embrace processing, product development, research and all the other aspects of the industry that are needed to keep things moving forward.

Communications: Make it big and loud

Apparently everything is big and loud in Colorado. Morris Beegle came over to shout about the big hemp tent he puts up every year in the form of the NoCo Hemp Expo: (ed.’s note) The Biggest Hemp Expo on the Planet. You’ll find it down the path to hemp freedom that connects us all through collaboration, education, best practices, science, history and truth, as Morris put it in his presentation.

This all left me thinking that we need to get louder about hemp in Europe when the dogs started barking, as the Hemp Road Trip rolled up to the house; behind the wheel, Rick Trojan, with an urgent proposal for a stronger trans-Atlantic hemp alliance.

The USA needs Europe’s lab and testing expertise, and its technology; its knowhow in fiber and stalk product development for non-wovens, clothing and specialty textiles. It needs Europe’s knowledge of construction methodology, materials research and applications. In return, the Americans can help bring the Euro hemp industry to a higher level of sophistication in marketing, branding, media and governmental relations, Rick suggested.

Beyond the potential for a stronger trans-Atlantic axis, there was consensus among all delegates that we can help advance the industry best by ramping up the exchange – ideas, technology, knowledge – among stakeholders the world over. And while investment in hemp seems slow to come, there are great opportunities for progress through non-traditional business relationships that don’t always involve capital connections.

Looking into the public markets

Boaz Wachtel has been down a long, unusual road through cannabis, starting out as a marijuana activist and later shepherding a couple of medical hemp firms onto the public markets in Australia. “You’ll lose control,” he advised anyone who might be looking to take a hemp company public. “The paperwork, the reporting, the oversight” are all burdensome, he warned. Nonetheless, he hit the key guideposts as he took our delegates through an outline of the process of launching an IPO. I had to ask him why he would put himself through such a process. His response: “It’s exciting.” Enough said.

Hemp changing lives

To my mind, the promise that hemp holds to improve people’s lives was best reflected in the update we got from Dhiraj and Nivedita Shah, who first returned to Nepal with the idea to rebuild after the devastating earthquake in 2015. They’ve already built several houses, a medical facility and a school, and expanded their company into textiles and fashion accessories – all based on raw material from naturally occurring “wild-crop” hemp that is gathered from local fields and then processed via their company’s micro-production facilities. They are using hemp to give shelter, create jobs and otherwise empower the downtrodden of Nepal’s “untouchables” caste. Hemp, with heart. We can all relate to that.

– Kehrt Reyher

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