SIDNEY — The new hemp plant that’s opened up in Sidney, Montana, isn’t worried about the legal status of CBD oil. That’s because the company is taking a whole hemp approach to the market. They can process the plants for CBD oil, of course, but also food and fiber as well.
CBD oil is extracted from hemp flowers. While hemp is a kissing cousin to marijuana, its oil does not contain any real concentration of THC, which is the primary psychoactive component in marijuana.
CBD oil has been a high-interest commodity, with many touting it for various health benefits, some proven, and some not. Many states have allowed the sale of CBD oil, while others continue to prohibit it. Meanwhile, the FDA has said CBD oil cannot be added to food products until the agency has determined the substance is safe to use in that way.
All of these conflicting signals have made the CBD oil landscape difficult and confusing to navigate for those trying to develop hemp markets.
The whole plant approach that American Harvest is taking grew out of that uncertainty. Even if CBD oil is ultimately restricted to medical markets, hemp fiber and hemp food products have great potential, according to John Piracha, CEO of American Harvest.
“The food side of the business is going to be fairly large itself,” he said. “We also have the capability to handle the fiber side as well. There are some really interesting products coming out of that, too. So if you look at this in totality, we have significant and diversified uses.”
The Sidney plant is actually an extension of ITC grain, a specialty crop business in Glendive that has been handling pulse crops since 2016. With the onset of a trade war, however, the price for chickpeas and lentils dropped.
The company decided in 2018 it would expand into hemp, and founded American Harvest in 2018. It had been looking for an ideal location, and found it in Sidney.
“We chose Sidney primarily because of access to farmland and growing capabilities in and around Sidney,” Piracha said. “We thought it would be a great spot for us because of the proximity to large acres of farmland where we can produce hemp.”
The plant employs between 40 to 50 people and is located in the old Chaseline building on Highway 16, which provided oilfield services and sand supplies. The 33-acre plant is already operational, although some functionalities are still being added. These installations are expected to be finished in the spring.
“We grew 5,600 acres of hemp in 2019,” Piracha said. “We can increase that substantially as we move forward.”
Those acres have all been harvested as of Thanksgiving, and the crop is being processed. Some of it has already been sold, and some is still being marketed.
“It’s a very new market, as you know,” Piracha said. “With the markets still developing, we are cautious not to grow too much.”
This also means the company has not yet developed a standard contract. For now, they are taking things on a case by case basis.
“We see this as a partnership between American Harvest and growers,” Piracha said. “We can provide seed and show them how to grow the crop. We also have all the equipment necessary to allow a producer to successfully harvest the crop.”
The equipment is customized for American Harvest, so that all parts of the hemp plant can be harvested for processing.
Producers are welcome to call American Harvest to discuss the opportunities, Piracha added.
“We can show them how to grow a crop that will be quite attractive for them as we go forward,” he said. “It is something producers should consider seriously.”