Marketing hemp can still be one of the toughest parts of growing the new crop.
It has been helpful that the most recent farm bill allows the crop to cross state lines, but producers are on their own finding markets.
The North Dakota Department of Agriculture lists a few hemp processors on its website, more than the one processor that accepted the crop in the first year of the NDDA’s pilot program for hemp.
Roger Gussiaas of Healthy Oilseeds, LLC., in Carrington, N.D., was the only processor and marketer in the North Dakota hemp program’s beginnings, so the oilseed exporter has his place in the state’s ag history books.
“We started the business of exporting oilseeds in 2002,” Roger said. “We started with flax and borage and then in 2016, farmers were able to grow hemp, and now we also process and export hemp.”
Gussiaas is a third-generation farmer in Carrington, where the family grows several crops, including wheat, barley, soybeans, sunflowers, flax, borage, and sometimes, hemp.
At the Dickinson Hemp Workshop this summer, Gussiaas shared valuable information about his business, including processing and marketing hemp.
“I retired from farming because of my export business, but the rest of the family continues to farm,” he said. “But this year, I have decided to put in 2 acres of CBD. You can call that gardening or farming but it is a small operation.”
Gussiaas put in some CBD plants “to learn a little bit about the plants, just to learn a little bit about the crop. There’s a completely different way of raising it.”
CBD is not raised for grain, and it requires a lot of space between plants in the acreage. “You really have to treat those profits the best you can and try to get as much as you can out of CBD. It’s expensive to grow,” he said.
Some people are choosing to plant clones, rather than plant seeds into trays and grow a plant, and that has been a problem for some.
“Some people who bought clones found there was too much water in the clones,” Gussiaas said.
Today, Healthy Oilseeds exports mostly borage and flax to 22 countries and 49 states, usually by container loads of product.
“Regarding hemp, we have exported hemp to Malaysia, Canada and South Africa,” Gussiaas said.
With hemp, their main product is hemp seed oil, which is crushed or cold pressed, and they are doing that 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We're pressing that seed, in order to extract the oil. And what’s left over is called hemp seed cake,” he said.
Hemp seed cake is milled to produce a protein powder.
“We also do some sifting to try to create higher protein,” he added. “Hemp oil is easy to sell and it is a very safe product that can be marketed quite easily. But as far as the, protein powder, the market is just not there yet.”
Hemp is almost a complete protein, as well as a very well balanced oil
“It’s lacking one amino acid and only one amino acid. It is probably the most complete protein plant protein out there,” he added.
But Gussiaas said the market for protein needs to be better developed.
Healthy Oilseeds sells the protein powder to markets for smoothies; some to pasta and a small amount to feed supplements.
Even though hemp is not allowed to be used as a feed supplement for horses or livestock, Gussiaas believes that is a solid future market.
“As far as visiting with veterinarians or people that worked with a lot of horses, some have pointed out a lot of horses have stomach problems,” he said.
Horses, especially performance horses, may be able to be fed hemp as a supplement to help the ulcers, and they can buy it at a small fraction of the price.
In another possible use, approximately 30 percent of chickens are fed flaxseed – and they could be fed hemp instead.
“Hemp could do as well or better for that, and it is a balanced oil,” Gussiaas said.
Another promising market is cosmetics.
“I've worked with three companies for cosmetics, also smaller companies,” he said. The companies included Revlon, Unilever and Burt’s Bees. “I think the future looks very bright for cosmetics.”
Quality hemp oil can also be used as a carrier oil for CBD, and that could be one of its best markets.
“I’ve visited with a lot of CBD companies and some feel that there is a growing market for MCT (most commonly extracted from coconut oil) to be a carrier oil,” Gussiaas said. “If you have traveled and went to a Caribbean island and settled on the beach and got sunburned, there’s someone who wants to put coconut oil on you. Well, coconut oil doesn't absorb well at all. It’ll stay on your skin for a long period of time.” In comparison, hemp seed oil absorbs very fast into the skin, which is an advantage for using that product.
“Hemp oil has an advantage as a carrier product with CBD, too,” he said.
When someone uses CBD oil, drops are placed under the tongue.
“If the carrier oil is MCT, the absorption is very slow. In fact, you many need to keep it under your tongue without swallowing for six to seven minutes,” Gussiaas said.
With hemp oil as the carrier, it only needs to be under the tongue for about a minute, because it absorbs quickly.
Another use for hemp oil that people have told Gussiaas about is to relieve skin problems from being bitten by bugs, such as mosquitoes.
“It really is soothing and it will help them recover from those bites very quickly,” he said.
As far as harvesting and storing, when small grains are sold to an elevator, “you really don’t watch the molds and the yeast.”
“You watch some of that, the mold and the yeast, but you have to really watch those things a lot closer with hemp,” Gussiaas said. “If hemp is put in a smoothie, for example, as a raw product, there is nothing that is killing that mold, the yeast and maybe equally, salmonella, things like that.”
Healthy Oilseeds obtains samples of the hemp so the company can do testing for mold, yeast, salmonella, and a Total Plate Count, before buying the product to cold press it.
“So far, we have rejected very few samples and rejected very little hempseed from North Dakota growers,” he said. “We’ve had like one or two rejections since 2016.”
Regarding harvesting hemp, “It is very important at harvest, when you get done for the night, you got to put air on it immediately. You cannot wait till the next morning, but you’ve got to work on trying to dry down that product as fast as you can.” Gussiaas said it does not take a lot of air to dry the product down.
“Air falls through the ground quite easily and it will dry quite quickly, especially in dry, warm weather, without a lot of humidity,” he said.
As far as as prices right now, Gussiaas said the price for conventional grain hemp is between 45 and about 55 cents a pound. For organic grain hemp, the price is anywhere from like $1.05-$1.25 per pound.
“There is a nice difference between conventional and organic production,” Gussiaas said. “Hemp is a very good crop for Dickinson, this southwestern area, and it’s a good crop for most of the state of North Dakota,”