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Chester County Press

Hemp-Alternative: Acres of new opportunity

08/03/2021 01:00PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer

On a recent summer afternoon, Hemp-Alternative Chief Executive Officer Cynthia Petrone-Hudock and her son Brad Hudock – the company’s Director of Operations and Project Management – walked a visitor through the broad sweep of their hemp fields that grow green and magnificent in Avondale.

At the Meadow Springs Farm, long rows of hemp burst through black tarpaulin in the sun, while in a nearby barn, huge sacks of harvested hemp waited to be converted into hemp (CBD) oil and distributed worldwide for its holistic benefits as it has been reported to address chronic pain, epilepsy and inflammatory conditions.

Less than one mile away off of Spencer Road, Petrone-Hudock and her son disappeared into a 13-acre thicket of hemp, where tall stalks approaching ten feet high will eventually be harvested and turned into industrial hemp fibers that can be used in the manufacturing of apparels, fabrics, paper and building materials – as well as furniture, automotive parts, insulation, ropes and cords, bioplastics and yes, even jewelry.

At first glance, it would be perfectly acceptable to refer to the Hudock’s initiative as maverick, out-of-the box and, as it says in the company’s title – alternative -- but for the three-year-old Hemp-Alternative, the reality is that it is riding the crest of a giant wave of government legislation which has flung the doors of hemp production wide open to a population that has begun to see its benefits.

After a hiatus of almost 45 years, the 2014 Farm Bill reintroduced industrial hemp production in the United States through State pilot programs. The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill) authorized the production of hemp and removed hemp and hemp seeds from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) schedule of controlled substances. It also directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue regulations and guidance to implement a program to create a consistent regulatory framework around production of hemp throughout the U.S.

More than 500,000 acres of licensed hemp being grown in U.S.

The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill led to a surge in hemp cultivation in the U.S. In 2019, the number of acres devoted to the growing of licensed hemp grew to 511,442 across 34 states, more than quadruple the number of acres licensed from the previous year. State licenses to cultivate hemp were issued to 16,877 farmers and researchers, a 476 percent increase over 2018, and as of June 2020, industrial hemp farming became legal in all states except Idaho and Mississippi.

While these are encouraging numbers, questions about the hemp industry – as well as skeptics who scoff at its environmental and physical benefits – still abound. On Aug. 14, Hemp-Alternative will present “Developing Industrial Hemp Markets and Supply Chains,” at the Stroud Water Research Center, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Hosted by the Center, the event will provide guests with tours of the fiber and grain field tours, as well as a full line-up of lectures by experts in the field of hemp and its increasing role in the marketplace. Among the seminar’s many speakers will be Stroud Water Research Center Executive Director Dr. David Arscott; Jamie Hicks, director of cultivation at Hemp-Alternative and co-owner of Meadow Springs Farm-Hicks Brothers, LLC; culinary medicine specialist and TV host Jessica DeLuise; and Terry Moran, vice president of production and operations at International Hemp.

For Petrone-Hudock, her extensive background in healthcare IT led her to want to know more about hemp as a possible alternative solution with a focus on geriatric patients and their chronic pain. After investing in New Frontier Data – a data analytics company that focuses on the cannabis industry -- she and her husband saw Jamie Hicks at a Pennsylvania hemp conference – a long-time friend and colleague. Soon after, she and Hicks began Hemp-Alternative in 2018.

Five-year collaboration

What began as a partnership between Hicks and Petrone-Hudock is now a five-year collaboration between Hemp-Alternative, Meadow Springs Farm-Hicks Brothers, LLC, the Stroud Water Research Center and the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering & Commerce at Thomas Jefferson University to study the cultivation, soil health, environmental impact and manufacturing of industrial hemp fiber.

At the core of the partnership between these organizations is the need to provide education to everyone, particularly those already in the agricultural industry. Petrone-Hudock said it was one of the topics she brought up during a recent meeting she had with State Sen. Elder A. Vogel, Jr. of Senate District 47, who also chairs the State’s Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee.

“Sen. Vogel told me that dairy farms are struggling across the state, and far too many sixth-generation farmers are losing their farms,” Petrone-Hudock said. “In 2019, we did see many farmers choose to save their farms by growing hemp. What is missing is this mechanism that helps them transition into an industry like hemp and develop the tools of the trade.

Can you take someone who has never grown hemp before and give them a transition plan to get there? We believe we can.”

At the Stroud Center, its hemp research is attempting to understand how the widespread adoption of this crop may affect our landscapes, particularly the impact or benefit for water quality and quantity in our freshwater ecosystems that are an integral part of the agricultural landscape. Arscott said that the seminar will address the qualities of hemp, what products can be made from it, and what environmental research is being done to guide the understanding and impact of the plant.

“I feel the event is coming together as a soup-to-nuts opportunity to learn about the agronomic practices needed to grow hemp, the processing of the material to make it usable for a wide diversity of products that can be made from it, and the challenges that face the system,” he said. “I think the marketplace for hemp products in general is growing and people are being made more and more aware of hemp products. They’re seeing hemp seeds that they can put on their salads or add it to their smoothies, but what people are not yet recognizing is that hemp is not yet a domestic product.”

Brad Hudock said the hemp industry has already begun to gain one potential and long-term audience: Those who are under 30 years of age.

“The combination of the wellness side and the industrial side of hemp is something that we as a generation are able to express personally, because we’re a generation who tends to be more accepting of new initiatives,” he said. “Research and learning more is attracting Millennials to want to know more.”

While the Aug. 14 seminar will shed light on the current state of the hemp industry and its opportunities for future growth, the truest measure of progress will be seen in whether the “alternative” label will eventually disappear. To Petrone-Hudock, who also serves on the Pennsylvania Hemp Steering Committee and the Chester County Agricultural Council, progress – and general immersion into the marketplace of Chester County and beyond -- will be measured by the degree of supply chain investment and the demand for the product.

“The hemp industry is like crossing a river, but the rocks are moving,” she said. “It is an emerging industry in a regulatory hotbed. Every day, there are new discoveries, new disappointments, and you have to wake up in the morning and start all over again with the same excitement, ambition and mission.

“Just like the crop itself, every avenue and piece of the plan and every cultivar has a path of its own that you can go down in order to seek out and determine opportunities.”

To register for the Aug. 14 seminar – visit bit.ly/3ze2n7j. To learn more about Hemp-Alternative – visit www.hemp-alternative.com. The Stroud Water Research Center is located at 970 Spencer Road, Avondale, Pa. 19311.

To learn more about the cannabis industry, visit New Frontier Data at https://newfrontierdata.com.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected]