With a few plants set in the ground, B and A Thompson Grain Farm, made local history.
The family-owned business based in Cortland is among the first in Jackson County to plant industrial hemp to sell to a local corporation, which plans to produce and sell cannabidiol or CBD oil.
Brian Thompson, along with son Ben, are growing about seven acres of hemp on their Hamilton Township farm to be produced for Thrive Well, a division of Kocolene Development Corp. in Seymour. Adam Myers with Myers Sod Farm, whose farm is nearby, also is growing hemp on about seven acres for the company.
The crop was planted about two weeks ago at the Thompson farm, and just a little before that at the Myers farm.
Thrive Well’s position in the market will be as a CBD processor, extracting the cannabidiol from locally grown hemp and selling it to other businesses to produce CBD products, said Doug Prather, president of Kocolene. It can be used in consumable oils, pills and gummies, bath bombs, topical ointments, bottled water and even pet products.
The farmers’ role is challenging, but simpler.
“Our whole job is to have the ground, put these plants in the ground, grow them, tend to them, harvest them, bring them in,” Brian said. “It was a huge intellectual challenge for us. It was invigorating because it wakes you up to the possibilities.”
The producers and Thrive Well met throughout the winter to plan out everyone’s role. Purdue University also is helping with research.
As demand in the state and nationwide continues to rise for the product, Kocolene has positioned itself as one of Indiana’s first processors of CBD oil.
The product has been said to alleviate inflammation, pain, anxiety, insomnia and seizures and can be used for a host of other conditions without the dangers of addiction.
On Monday, Seymour City Council gave the company a $1.5 million tax break on an investment in manufacturing equipment and technology including extractors, purifiers, distillers and more.
The company will use outsourced hemp plants for production now, but anticipates the Thompsons and Myers will provide locally-grown hemp.
The Thompsons planted a half acre from seed and the remaining acreage was planted with sets grown in a greenhouse in Greenwood. How much that will produce is largely unknown, but they have planted four varieties.
The seed was planted with a customized meter used for planting other crops, Thompson said. The plant sets, however, required some research and an investment.
Brian and Ben purchased a tobacco planter to plant the sets, which is how many farmers in Kentucky have planted hemp.
Thompson had never used one before, but the equipment is engineered in an interesting way, he said.
The machine has four seats and the top back of the machine has places for trays of plants to sit.
Those seated take plants and set them into a belt. A disc at the bottom of the machine cuts a row into the ground and the belt rotates to set the plant upright into the ground and two wheels push the dirt up around the plant to seal it in the ground. The plant also receives a small dose of fertilizer.
“I didn’t even know about this kind of machine,” he said. “There’s a lot going on, but it’s actually pretty simple.”
Ben walked behind the crew to make sure everything was being planted correctly.
It was a slow process.
“I think we went in first gear at a mile and a half an hour,” Thompson said.
Now that the plants are in the ground, the Thompsons will manage weeds, insects, disease and more in the field. That management cannot include pesticides because of federal regulations.
The plants also have to be monitored to make sure their tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, levels do not cross a threshold, which would make them illegal. Samples are sent to Purdue University, which has licensed the business and farm, for testing of those levels.
Thompson said the THC levels are kept in check by harvesting the plants early and keeping them from being stressed by watering and fertilizing them.
The plan is for producers to begin harvesting plants sometime in September with a machine that has a belt with spikes.
The stem gets notched and placed in a wagon. The plants will then be dried in a facility at Freeman Field Industrial Park.
Producers are paid by the oil the plants yield.
The prices can vary between $4,000 and $5,000 an acre, Brian said, according to his research. That compares to about $100 an acre corn gives them.
The hemp seeds also cost 40 times more per acre than corn, Brian said.
Ben points out while there are differences in prices per acre, there’s also a difference in the amount of time it takes to plant the two crops.
“We can plant 200 acres of corn a day and it took us the whole day to plant two acres of hemp,” Ben said. “That’s a big difference, but we learned a lot. There really aren’t too many parallels.”
What the future holds for local farmers of the plant is unclear. Whether there will be more than the seven acres on the Thompsons’ farm next year isn’t certain either.
Both plan to make sure they wait and see.
“If things go well, we want to provide Kocolene with as much as they need,” Ben said. “One thing I know is that I don’t think anyone really quite knows the limit yet.”