When President Donald Trump signed the 2018 farm bill, industrial hemp was removed from the Controlled Substances Act and full federal regulatory authority of hemp was placed under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
By the end of October, over 7,000 industrial hemp plants will have been hand-harvested from 6 acres of row crop ground at Agricenter International, signaling the end of the second growing season for SBX Farms. “Now that we have a crop to harvest, we look forward to processing it and continuing our efforts to expand the distribution of our signature CBD oil-based products,” says Steve Smith, director of Operations, SBX Farms. “After hand-harvesting is complete, we will bring the plants into our curing room where we have rack space to hang dry them until they reach a moisture level of around 11 percent.”
Grown on wide rows of white plastic mulch, various row spacings were used to allow adequate airflow between the plants. “We had an unseasonably warm September and we knew rains would come at some point, so that row spacing was fortuitous on our part because the buds on hemp plants are very dense,” Smith says. “That airflow will help dry the plants after a rain or heavy morning dew.”
Drying and extraction
New equipment and technologies are being developed for hemp production and processing, but the crop SBX Farms is harvesting this year will be hand-stripped and ground into a manageable form with a proprietary grinder. “We won’t take it down to a powder, but you have to increase your bulk density to get a good extraction,” Smith says. “Once we get it to that point, that’s where our chemist takes over.”
The ground hemp flower will be soaked in ethanol for a period of time, then the ethanol will be filtered off in a process very similar to a coffee filter. “The ethanol will extract the CBD (cannabidiol) oil and terpenes from the ground buds,” says Randal Powell, chemist, SBX Farms, who grew up around a tobacco farm in east Tennessee and equates the hemp drying process to drying tobacco. “These plants are chemical factories and the complexities of the chemistries they produce are quite impressive.”
Although CBD oil is similar in structure to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, CBD oil has therapeutic effects but no psychoactive effects. “Many of the solvents used to extract CBD oil have been tested on marijuana because of the similarities of the plants,” Powell says. “But make no mistake, these are two entirely different plants despite their visual similarities.”
The terpenes extracted, along with the CBD oil, play an aromatic role in the final product. Terpenes have been extracted from trees and plants as far back as the Egyptians who used them to treat a wide range of maladies centuries ago. “It takes us about three days to complete an entire extraction process,” Powell says.
SBX Farms is very transparent in the processes they use to produce CBD oil product. Some products currently on the market claim to be CBD-based. Some have undergone independent testing which has shown they contain no CBD oil in them at all. “Our products can be verified,” Powell says. “We will show anyone our lab reports and test results.”
Formulation and sales
Once the oil and terpenes have been extracted, the formulation process begins in the SBX Farms laboratory. “I’ll meter out specific amounts of the oil into different ingredients like beeswax and shea butter,” says Ashley Peck, director, Sales and Formulation. “I’ll also add essential oils such as lavender or rosemary that give the product distinctive fragrances.”
Peck and the staff conducted their own research on existing CBD oil products currently on the market. “We decided to add a higher level of oil into our products at or below the market price than what we’re asking for it at wholesale,” Peck says. “There are currently no regulations limiting the level of oil that can go into a CBD-based product.”
Peck is a runner and uses the product when she has aches and pains after a hard run. “CBD oil is an anti-inflammatory product,” Peck says. “It takes the nag out of the pain. Now that industrial hemp production and the products of CBD are legal, we anticipate much more scientific research will be published about how and why CBD oil is effective.”