Hemp company Vertical celebrated the opening of their new facility in Trigg County on Friday. The $5 million investment in the 90,000 square foot facility on 14 acres will also bring more than 100 jobs, according to company officials.
Harvested hemp filled the floor of what the California-based company is looking to call "ground zero" for their business. The estimated 300,000 pounds of biomass will be turned into some variation of CBD oil product. The crop represents about 100 acres of hemp and four different varieties separated for study. COO Drew Milburn explained the hemp is currently being dried and cured before being turned into oil. He anticipates that will be done between now and Christmas, with the equipment to do so moving in soon.
President Smoke Wallin said the oil processing will create isolate and distillate. The company will build brands that will go into stores and he hopes some of those products can be manufactured locally.
“I can tell you that we’ll have hemp-based CBD products in brands that we create on the shelves at Walmart and Walgreens and CVS and across the country as soon as we can get the Farm Bill passed properly and it’s clear and open for all 50 states of business," said Wallin.
Wallin said he first met with Congressman James Comer last March to talk about the hemp industry. Comer has long advocated for hemp in Kentucky and has made it his mission in Congress to see the crop reclassified from a controlled substance to an agriculture crop.
“I believe hemp’s going to be one of the major crops in Kentucky for many, many years to come," said Comer at the ceremony on Friday, following an educational summit on hemp earlier that day at nearby Murray State University. He credited MSU as “the leading research university for hemp in the nation” and said it was the first to plant a hemp seed in modern times, a claim that has also been made by the school's Dean of Agriculture Tony Brannon.
Comer suggested hemp offers sustainability in a challenging time for farmers - due to low commodity prices and trade market uncertainties. Of the 2018 Farm Bill still in conference committee, he said there are about 14 or 15 points that still need working through (primarily the controversial SNAP work requirements), but assured that hemp was not one of those issues. The Farm Bill contains language that reclassifies hemp as an ag commodity - which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also supports.
Comer and Wallin both agreed that hemp was likely one of the few issues in Congress that has overwhelming bipartisan support. “The liberals like hemp because it’s a sustainable crop. The conservatives like hemp because this is an example of the government being in the way of the private sector. There was no reason for this plant to ever be illegal in the United States," Comer said. He added as more people use hemp products, the industry will see rapid growth.
“Anytime you can, in my opinion, replace medicines from natural plants as opposed to chemical compositions - that’s a pretty good thing. And with the next generation of America that’s a very good thing," Comer said and noted that he proudly takes hemp oil for inflammation and arthritis. Wallin said he, too, uses the product. CBD oil has become a popular remedy for inflammation and for treating anxiety, and, as NPR reports, scientists are working to catch up with the claims.
After the extraction process, Vertical plans to use the remaining material to create other products. Milburn said with research and development underway in the pilot project, “There’s things we haven’t even thought about for the use of this particular plant.” And the company plans on working with the community to build out downstream processing beyond extraction.
Milburn said, “We intend to treat the community with respect. We hope to build and be good stewards of this industry. We hope to expand from here. And I can assure you that we will do all we can to help benefit this particular region and the entire commonwealth."