For many who choose to live and work in Northern Colorado’s agricultural communities, there’s more to love than just the picturesque mountains in the distance or the easy accessibility to major metropolitan hubs like Denver and Fort Collins.
The area provides access to ag-based educational opportunities, industry partnerships, and processing facilities that just aren’t available in many parts of the country.
Creating a Knowledge Base
Owner of Hemp Processing Partners Shane Pritchard is opening an industrial hemp collaboration hub and laboratory in Greeley later this year.
He explained why the area is such an ideal fit: “Greeley and Weld County are very strong agricultural areas and we have access to agricultural universities, with Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, and Aims Community College. So there are good educational resources there and a lot of really productive agricultural land.”
Hemp Ventures is a hemp processing and technologies company led by CEO Ryan Doherty.
He feels shared knowledge will encourage more adoption of hemp throughout the country: “I really want to engage with students, colleges, and universities to get the whole next generation seeing this material and getting their hands on it so they can come up with businesses and ideas to take advantage of this new opportunity — which, I think, is one of the greatest in the last couple of decades. How often do you see a plant reintroduced that has the capabilities of cotton, timber, and petrochemicals? It has never happened.”
Informed Farmers Grow Better Crops
One of the largest hemp extraction footprints in the U.S. belongs to BioDynamic Extraction (BDX), which can produce up to 20,000 kg of CBD per year in one of their facilities.
BDX Market Strategist Preston Mantel encourages the farmers they work with to be educated and informed so they can cultivate quality crops.
Mantel noted: “Ken [Thieneman, BDX founder] recognized the importance of biomass. With extraction, you get out what you put into it, so making high-quality CBD products starts with quality biomass.”
That’s why many companies choose to work with hemp agronomists — scientists who are trained to increase soil productivity and improve crop quality.
Well-educated farmers produce better crops, which allow for a synergy between producers and processors that’s hard to find in such a localized area.
High-quality hemp can be processed into an astounding array of products, able to create thousands of goods from fiber to fuel to food.
Doherty explains: “You really need the fiber and hurd to be separated. It’s kind of like separating crude oil into all the different things that it can be used for… Hemp is very similar, the stalk is like the crude oil and you need it separated to make it useful for all these other industries. What we do is separate it and make it useful. So, that will be the catalyst for much more activity and innovation in the space.”
PureHemp Technology is one such company working to separate and manufacture hemp into a diverse set of GMP- and organic-certified SKUs. As a vertically integrated hemp manufacturer, they produce and market full- and broad-spectrum CBD products.
Adding to the regional current of innovation, PureHemp created a tech known as continuous countercurrent reactors (CCR).
CCRs rapidly deconstruct hemp stalk into cellulose, sugars, and lignin.
Those components are then used to create everything from hemp business cards to green chemicals, like bioplastics.
They plan to scale up their CCR pilot plant to 8-tons per day over the next year while continuing to offer conventional stalk refinements such as size choppers, a thresher, and a decorticator.
Extracting: an Exacting Science
Innovation is a common theme in the processing sector of the industrial hemp industry.
BDX, for example, specializes in supercritical carbon dioxide cannabinoid extraction.
Client Relationship Manager Jake Thieneman noted that in an industry like hemp, you have to constantly refine and reexamine your goals: “We’re continually innovating our process, just so we have better and better products. We chose supercritical CO2 extraction because it’s the cleanest, and yes it was a bigger investment on our part, but it’s worthwhile for us to stay true to our vision and stay true to the mission because we’re really trying to innovate this industry.”
BDX is also working with technology partners to offer their clients full THC remediation, meaning traceable, zero-THC products for their customers.
Thieneman disclosed: “We invested in [top-quality] lab equipment, which actually makes our job a lot more difficult because we have to strip every little bit of THC out, to three or four decimal places, but it makes our products that much better for the client. We document that and deliver [that documentation] to our clients.”
Thieneman is passionate about zero-THC products, and not just because his father relied on CBD to recover from a traumatic surgery.
Thieneman played for the San Francisco 49ers in 2019 and saw locker rooms filled with aching players who turned to over-the-counter pain relievers or doctor-prescribed opioids to deal with their injuries.
He believes CBD with zero THC could be a game changer for athletes and those impacted by chronic pain.
The market is saturated with CBD products, which has placed extra pressure on processors to be transparent and efficient.
Pritchard explained how they’re helping farmers optimize returns with his cutting-edge processing technology: “We’ve made hemp separation more economically viable in order to drive down input and production costs and be able to do it at a very large scale. We have systems that process 10,000 pounds an hour. In the hemp world, that’s been revolutionary.”
More efficient technologies can make all the difference when growing hemp for CBD products.
Pritchard continued, “A lot of customers tell us that by using our equipment, it’s given them the ability to sell material in an oversupplied market. They’ve been able to get more purity in their product and that’s given them the edge when they go to sell it.”
Designed for Success and Safety
Little innovation would be possible without well-designed facilities and secure products.
Code Unlimited, an accessibility, building code, and fire protection firm, is helping hemp producers create operations that adhere to best practices while remaining compliant with state regulations.
One of the primary challenges of facility design is fulfilling the company’s vision while also providing a code-compliant structure.
Code Unlimited creates structures for the hemp industry that positively impact the well-being of farmers and other hemp professionals, creating buildings that are both functional, efficient, and inviting.
Code Unlimited Engineer in Training Caitlynn Holmes shared: “It’s really exciting from a behind the scenes perspective to be able to impact the way that people go about their daily lives.”
With a well-designed facility brimming with high-quality hemp, security will be a major concern — not only for farmers, but for regulators who take security seriously.
Local Greeley companies like Patriot Shield Security are able to provide end-to-end protection, offering secure hemp transport, transactions, warehousing, storage, and security monitoring. As the industry expands, expect to see the already lengthy list of security regulations continue to grow.
This article originally appeared in the summer 2020 issue of Cannabis & Tech Today. Header image courtesy Jake Thieneman.