A California-based import/export service visited with farmers Thursday in Hilo to discuss a possible hemp-farming cooperative on the Big Island.
Three representatives of Green Label Group proposed to Big Island farmers the possibility of working together to develop a profitable hemp industry on the island.
The proposal, explained Green Label Group founder Georgio Martinez, is for th group to supply hemp seeds to participating farmers. The farmers would grow the crops, testing them regularly to ensure they do not exceed the legal threshold for the psychoactive compound THC, and then Green Label would take the harvest and sell it as biomass to clients around the globe, with the farmer getting paid by the pound.
Martinez said the process circumvents legal issues surrounding cannabidiol, a product of hemp processing.
Although products made with cannabidiol, or CBD, are legal — and a rapidly growing industry — CBD itself is a federally controlled substance and therefore cannot be imported or exported. However, selling harvested hemp as biomass allows the biomass to be legally transported, and the purchasers can process the hemp into CBD themselves, Martinez explained.
Green Label Group created similar co-ops at similar latitudes in Mexico, which proved successful, Martinez claimed.
Co-founder Johnathan Pozon said the Big Island is the best candidate in the state for growing hemp thanks to its abundant farmland.
Junior partner Banker Tsaur said there is a growing demand for American CBD. Although China is currently the largest hemp producer in the world, much of its CBD exports contain too many heavy metals to be used for food or medical products.
“All American CBD needs to be medical-grade,” Tsaur said.
Tsaur also suggested buyers might pay a premium for Hawaiian-grown hemp biomass.
Reactions to the proposal were mixed. One farmer questioned what makes hemp different from other supposed “supercrops.” Tsaur cited hemp’s ability to remediate soil — removing toxins and other contaminants as a means to keep the industry from depleting the soil.
Other farmers asked about the costs versus potential profits. Tsaur said the revenue per acre ranges from the low thousands to nearly $10,000, but pointed out that the costs of testing the crops for THC would be nearly $1,000 per week — and that, if the crop failed a test, it would have to be razed and started again.
While the presentation ended inconclusively, Martinez said he was hopeful that this could be the start of a thriving industry on the island.
“People out there want to invest in hemp,” Martinez said. “And we want them to invest in the Big Island.”
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