As the first large operation hemp farm in Pocahontas County, KinFolk Farms, LLC in Hillsboro is a good place to look for answers to questions about the emerging hemp industry in West Virginia.
The business owners – R.W. Burns, Clay Condon and Adam Craten – have always been transparent and open about their operation, and invited interested farmers and individuals to take a tour of the farm last Thursday.
Co-hosting the event was the WVU Extension Service of Pocahontas County, represented by county program coordinator and agriculture and natural resources extension agent Greg Hamons.
“The emerging hemp industry in the state and around is kind of booming,” Hamons said. West Virginia went from about fifty growers with a hundred and sixty acres to a hundred and fifty growers with about twenty-five hundred acres.”
Burns, with his farm, partnered with Condon and Craten – both hemp farmers – to create a larger scale operation which will also include drying services.
“We put down approximately thirty-thousand plants in about twenty-two acres,” Burns said. “All the seeds and plant types we selected are very high CBD value. We don’t have any big fiber plants. These plants can range from six foot down. Short, squat and a lot of good dense material that can be processed into CBD crude oil. That’s kind of where we’re at.”
CBD – or cannabidiol – is the active ingredient in hemp which is used either as a tincture or salve to quell health issues including pain and anxiety.
The first step in a successful crop is the seed and Condon explained that not all seeds are created equal.
“I’d say one of the biggest pitfalls or risks when you’re getting into hemp farming is where you source your genetics, and what genetics you choose to grow. There’s a lot of bad seed suppliers out there that make claims that aren’t true. You’ve really got to vet your seed source and make sure they’re reputable and know what they’re talking about.”
It may be cheaper to buy regular seeds, but Condon said you run the risk of getting male plants in the mix, which will deter the female plants from producing high levels of CBD.
“If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you might miss a bunch of males and then your crop will get seeded and your canibinoid content will go down in those plants because the plants will put their energy into producing seeds instead of CBD,” Condon said.
He added that it is also possible to clone plants, which means all the plants cloned will have the same genetic identity as the mother plant with no variation.
For this first crop, the 30,000 plants were all produced from painstakingly planted seeds. While it was a difficult process, Craten explained that it is cheaper for a grower to start with seeds than to buy plants.
“If you buy seedlings or clones, they usually cost anywhere from three to seven dollars a piece,” he said. “Some people don’t have the greenhouses and space to start all that, so it might be worth it for some people. If you have a greenhouse, you can make something work. It gets expensive if you’re buying thirty-thousand seedling starts from somebody for three bucks a piece.”
Walking among the plants on the 22-acre field, there is some variation to the green leaves, with touches of yellow and white. It may look like a disease, but is in fact, just a genetic pigmentation.
“A lot of people will refer to this or scare you as a scare tactic – they’ll call this tobacco mosaic virus,” seed supplier David Munsee said. “Basically, it’s the variegation in the leaf – the yellow and the green that come into play in different places. That’s not a nutrient deficiency. There’s nothing wrong with that plant. The only thing that could be different about a variegated plant is it will have stunted growth and that simply is due to one thing – photosynthesis.”
Munsee said the variegation could be compared to a birthmark on a human. There’s nothing that can prevent it, and there’s nothing wrong with the plant – it simply has a color variation.
“The plant’s going to produce well, just not as much,” he said.
When the plants begin to bud, they must be tested 30 days prior to harvest to ensure that the THC levels are low enough to pass the state regulation.
“Once they test, you’re done,” Burns said. “There’s no other requirements by anybody out there – state or federal – that says you have to go through another test.”
Condon did suggest having more tests done in the first round to have data to monitor the CBD levels. He said it might also be worthwhile to send a sample for testing from the same plant tested by the state to ensure the test works properly.
When it is time to harvest, the farm will take its plants to the Edray warehouse where it recently signed a five-year lease to use the facility for drying and processing biomass. This lease is just one part of the three-year plan for the business.
“Our goal is to double our crop size each year,” Burns said. “We rented the Edray warehouse on a five-year contact. That’s going to be the place where we’re drying this year. As we get bigger in capacity, we’re going to run out of vertical hanging space, so in year two, we’re going to move most of our proceeds back into the company, and look at purchasing a pretty good dryer.
“When we go into year three, we’re going to possibly get a second dryer,” he continued. “Then we will move into processing, where we’ll do extraction ourselves.”
Throughout the tour and after, Burns, Condon and Craten answered questions from visitors, including farmers from Pocahontas and Greenbrier counties, who are interested in joining the hemp production industry.