U.S. company’s plans would shift hemp balance in Virginia

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A Virginia, USA hemp company hopes to rally farmers to grow 1,400 acres of industrial hemp this year to feed a $3.3 million decortication facility. The company said its operations could result in as much as $5 million in payments to Virginia farmers over the next three years.

Shenandoah Valley Hemp, LLC (Pure Shenandoah) said the investment will be used to expand existing extraction facilities and install a fiber processing line, with both planned to be operational by autumn 2021.

“We plan to add to our current network of partnered farms to grow as much hemp fiber as possible in 2021,” said Jake Johnson, Pure Shenandoah’s Cultivation Director. “This will result in a major source of supplemental income to our farmers, who desperately need it.”

Shift toward fiber

With just 2,000 acres of hemp cultivation in Virginia over the past two years, Pure Shenandoah plans to grow 1,400 acres for hemp stalks could mean a significant shift in balance in Virginia hemp farming, which so far has been dominated by CBD.

Started in 2018, Pure Shenandoah is a family enterprise operated by Johnson and his three brothers: Tanner, the company’s CEO; and Abner and Talbot, who work in research and production. The company started with a CBD crop in 2019, later setting up extraction operations. Pure Shenandoah-branded CBD products – CBD oils, a CBD muscle balm, hemp flowers and pre-rolls – are already in over 40 retail outlets, and an online shop opened last year is growing every month, the company said.

Pure Shenandoah is expanding its existing state-of-the-art CO2 processing facility that is already approved for making products for human consumption and expects to be certified for dietary supplement production soon.

Agencies in support

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) and Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) worked with Rockingham County and the Rockingham County Economic Development Authority to secure the Pure Shenandoah expansion project, which received a $50,000 grant from Gov. Ralph Northram’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Fund. Rockingham County is to match those funds while further funding and services to support the company’s creation of 24 new jobs will be provided through VEDP’s Virginia Jobs Investment Program.

“The spotlight on hemp being backed by a state agency shows tremendous credibility and helps legitimize the industry,” Johnson said.

Johnson said Pure Shenandoah sees markets for processed hemp stalks for such end products as hurd for animal bedding, and bast fiber for paper, clothing, and car parts. The potential $5 million in payments to farmers is based on first-year forecasts of 6 million pounds purchased and processed for hurd, and the company’s expectation that the fiber sector will see rapid growth over the next 3 years, Johnson said.

“Getting the right equipment and working on end markets; those are the big key to the whole system,” said Tanner Johnson. “The lack of infrastructure in the United States has been the main barrier to entry, which is the main bottleneck we hope to fix.”

Domestic supply

The first goal is to supply domestic vendors demanding hurd and fiber in larger wholesale quantities. The company will work on product development simultaneously to help build future markets, the brothers said.

Jake Johnson said the company is re-fitting existing poultry houses adjacent to its CBD factory into a fiber processing and storage site. “While CBD was our first hemp business, we always knew fiber was going to be a major focus of our business,” he said.

Pure Shenandoah’s vertically integrated “seed to sale” operation features a traceability program that incorporates tracking numbers, lot numbers, and batch manufacturing records to ensure quality and chain of custody. Johnson said the company will implement additional technologies in 2021 including Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tracking on its CBD production plots, and an in-house testing lab at its facility this year.

Praise for project

Pure Shenandoah will become the first participant in the Virginia’s Finest trademark program, a quality-assurance scheme, by sourcing 100 % of the hemp used in its products exclusively from Virginia farmers.

Virginia officials lauded the Pure Shenandoah investment: “Projects like this one are an important part of diversifying our economy and developing new markets for industrial hemp,” Gov. Northam said.

“I am pleased to see continued job creation and investment in Virginia’s industrial hemp industry and excited for the new market opportunities the industry is creating for our farmers.” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring.

The Virginia hemp program is governed by the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services under a law passed in 2019 following the federal legalization of hemp under the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill.

Virginia is among U.S. states that have cleared the way for products that come from the leaves and flowers of industrial hemp. Two separate bills signed into law last year in the traditional tobacco state allow CBD in food and food supplements, and set rules for smokable hemp.

Virginia is a traditional tobacco state in the USA.

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