Franny Tacy recommends first-time hemp producers not follow her example to get started.
"I leaped before I looked," Tacy says.
The leap of faith worked out for her. She currently grows, manufactures, has six dispensaries and distributes hemp and CBD products in all 50 states through Franny's Farmacy in Asheville NC.
Tacy plans to have 10 to 15 dispensaries in place across the eastern U.S. by the end of 2020.
She has also helped establish a non-profit, Women in Hemp. She participates in hemp research trials with North Carolina State University and has a TEDx speech on hemp.
She is the first female hemp farmer in North Carolina in more than 75 years.
Start small with hemp
She advises would-be hemp growers to start slowly. She says when you are the first in business and in a new industry, no infrastructure exists. "This business didn’t exist in 2018," she says. "We had no stores or dispensaries at the time. We had to set all this up."
She says they had no federal or state dollars to support start-ups and had to start from scratch, selling 7 acres of their farmland to launch their business.
"We knew we faced some big challenges," she says. "We donated our first crop to NCSU research."
She says they consulted "experts, just not experts in hemp. We worked together."
She says new growers should be more cautious. "Point, aim, then shoot," she says.
Her first recommendation: "Source the best genetics possible, not from your neighbors. Work with reputable breeders — ours are Front Range BioScience and Triangle Hemp, not from neighbor's cloning. Look for varieties that can be grown for different regions, depending on available land."
She says some research work underway at North Carolina State and other universities is providing better genetics and production guidelines.
"Next, you have to soil test," she says. "Be aware that if anyone ever used chemicals on land, that field will not be eligible to grow a CBD crop within three years. Heavy metal and pesticides are prohibited for smokable hemp, which is the highest paying product. We see 98% of hemp money in buds. The rest is biomass and is not as profitable or marketable."
Tacy explains that hemp biomass at one time brought $4.25 per CBD point per pound. "Last year it fell to 76 cents per pound. Biomass lost money before it was planted."
She recommends starting small. Early on, she insisted that growers producing for Franny's Farmacy plant no more than 1 acre.
"We had 800 applicants and only 300 qualified. Of those, 180 wanted to grow more than 1 acre. We whittled the list down to the best growers, the ones best aligned with our values.
"One acre of hemp can produce thousands of products," she says. "It's not necessarily an economy of scale. It is labor intensive, requires more people, more time, more risk, and more space for drying and curing."
She says new hemp farmers also need to pay close attention to contracts, which are different from what most farmers are accustomed to. "Hemp is a commodity but farmers need to understand that it is not tobacco. Hemp is its own crop and the only one that can feed, clothe, shelter and provide medicine.
"Still, contract before you grow, but understand that those contracts may not be enforceable. They have contingencies. The crop must meet standards." THC level makes a big difference between a good product and an illegal one, she says.
"CBD is hot, now," Tacy says, "but hemp is also fiber and food."
New producers, she says, must be flexible. "Just because we know how to grow other things doesn't mean we understand hemp," she says. "We have to take new fundamentals into this crop and be willing to learn. We still don't have all the answers and if you meet anyone who says he or she is an expert, run the other way."
She advises experienced tobacco farmers not to assume they understand hemp, even though they might be familiar with labor demand, harvest timing, drying and storage.
Marketability of hemp
"We can spend a lot of time and money on a hemp crop and then find it's not marketable. And as soon as we harvest, we move into another phase, drying and storing. "The drying and curing process is not exactly like tobacco," Tacy says. "For one thing, we have to manage for mold. They do not test for mold in tobacco. Hemp, we test. We do not want someone sick from hemp." It's especially important in smokable hemp, she says. "Smoking mold is not good for you."
Changes coming for hemp
Tacy says the industry will see significant changes this year with regulations from the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 kicking in in October. Federal guidelines will supersede state regulations. She predicts many convenience store and smoke shop retail outlets will close in favor of regulated dispensaries.
"The year 2020 is a year of pause," she says, as the industry gets ready for federal oversight.
"The legalities of hemp are complicated, confusing, and cross federal departments of DEA, FDA and USDA. Hemp crops have different uses — food, fiber and CBD used for medicine and people smoking it; hemp requires different regulations.
"What random number," she asks, "will be used as a marker to determine if it's an illegal crop? Currently, we have a15-day interval between testing and harvesting. We only have 50 federal testing facilities in the entire country."
She says harvest delays, weather issues for instance, would skew testing timelines. "It becomes very complicated."
Franny's Farmacy offers opportunities for growers to market their product. Tacy sources material mostly within 30 miles of Asheville. "We make an impact on the community's economy and the personal economies for hundreds of people.
"Franny's Manufacturing provides opportunities for other businesses in a boutique market," she says. "We help them by private labeling with our high standards and regulations. They bring us their brand and concept; we keep them moving."
Tacy says Franny's Farmacy also offers consulting and contacts with breeders. They also have franchise opportunities. All products are tested and traceable from seed to shelf.
She is also a strong advocate for the hemp industry and women in agriculture and speaks at seminars and conventions across the country. "Women are a minority in hemp production," she says.
She offers one last piece of advice for anyone contemplating producing hemp. "Don't spend one penny you can't afford to lose."