Most U.S. farmers are growing hemp for cannabidiol, but hemp-based hardwood and bioplastics businesses have sprouted up this fall, expanding the newly legal crop’s potential beyond CBD.
Hemp has been promoted as a plant material that can be made into 50,000 different products, but uses other than extracting CBD — a compound found in marijuana that doesn’t get you high — have been slow to grow.
Murray, Ky.-based HempWood opened a 15,600-square-foot factory last month with the introduction of a wood-substitute plank made from hemp. The pressed boards are 20 percent denser than oak, and the plant material can be grown in six months as opposed to 200 years for an oak tree, the company, Fibonacci LLC, said.
Hardwood panels, which can be used for flooring, furniture and other woodworking projects, are based on a technology adapted from the bamboo industry, said John Crye, the company’s director of sales and marketing.
“We’re in the forefront of the hemp fiber industry, and I don’t know how many people are buying it besides, us,” Crye said. “There appears to be lots of room for new entrants in the market.”
Industrial hemp stalks, about 6 feet high, are harvested and cold-pressed with resins to make a grain-patterned wood product, Crye said.
The stalky fiber plant has a different shape than the bushy hemp plants grown by many U.S. farmers for CBD. All hemp plants are members of the cannabis family, relatives of their THC-laden cousin marijuana.
Fibonacci employs eight people and plans to hire two more per month, ultimately hoping to employ 50 workers to run two shifts, owners said.
The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority granted $300,000 in employment-based tax incentives for the $5.6 million factory.
Crye said the idea is to use tall fiber hemp grown within 100 miles. The firm has contracted with local farmers in Western Kentucky for 1,300 acres.
The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Republican U.S. Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., who represents the western part of the state, visited the factory last month to learn about potential for the industry.
Owners still need to navigate hemp-related banking restrictions and other hurdles, but have plans to eventually.