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Sunny Skies CBD grows 1st hemp crop

Slideshow: The partners plan to grow more hemp next year in Durand, Wis.

Harley Buchholz

September 25, 2019

6 Slides

In mid-September, Sunny Skies CBD began harvesting and processing its first hemp crop. Ben Rippley and Pete Adler plan to infuse and sell a full range of CBD products from their store in Durand, Wis., as well as selling some of the crop wholesale.

Their vertical integration started in May with seed planting in a rented greenhouse. In June, seedlings were moved outdoors to 4- and 6-acre plots in the Durand area. Rippley says the fields were walked at least twice a week for insect and weed control.

Rippley, Adler and Adler’s wife, Terri, are self-taught hemp farmers. She is chief financial officer of the enterprise and handles interaction with state offices.

“I’ve read pretty much all the research [from various universities, including University of Wisconsin]. Reading is the big thing,” Rippley says. He also has talked with other growers and worked for 18 months with a childhood friend in a business that bought CBD extracts to infuse in various products and then sell.

“Since then, I always had my eye on growing [the crop],” he says.

Rippley graduated from college in Colorado, where he grew up. He studied operations management and business systems. He traveled the world before working with his friend in the CBD business.

He has no ag background, but he does have lots of enthusiasm and technical knowledge when it comes to hemp production. At 26, he’s about half the age of Adler, who is 51 and lives in Durand, where Rippley’s family visited in summers. The Adlers teach in the Pepin County area. 

Rippley and Adler developed the Sunny Skies logo in January. The two men mesh well and have many family members to help in their operation, including Rippley’s girlfriend, Carly James; his three brothers, Jack, Charlie and Max; Jack’s girlfriend, Hannah Teliez; and the Adlers’ children, Peter Jr., Libby and Hunter.

They are hiring additional help as they move into processing and sales. They launched a website earlier this month and are on Facebook and Instagram.

Raising and processing hemp is labor-intensive. Seeds were planted in a greenhouse; then seedlings were dropped from a cultivating machine with a team walking behind to be sure they were firmly placed. There was a lot of weeding by hand. Harvest, by state regulation, must take place before THC levels reach 0.3%, the point where hallucinogenic strength may be reached. Rippley says a hand-held testing device is used.

Sunny Skies is shooting for yields of more than 1 pound per plant.

Processing involves refining and re-refining until the extract reaches the 99.9% CBD isolate ideal for infusing.

“We have a huge processing capacity,” Rippley notes. “We will have a full product line this fall. We plan to expand to 17 acres next year, possibly more ... and expand services to selling seedlings. We have a good strategy for drying with temperature and humidity controls.”

Check out the slideshow to see photos of the Sunny Skies operation.

Brothers diversify dairy farm with hemp

Like so many others, crop and dairy farming brothers Zack and Chad Baker feel the pinch of low prices.

“We’re very good and efficient, but we’re still losing,” Zack says. “We keep doing it [milking cows] because we’re good at it, and it’s the only thing that brings in steady checks.”

Last year to supplement their income, they planted 8 acres of hemp. Did it help? “Oh, yeah!” Zack says. “We made more than in 10 years of row crops.”

This year they planted 55 acres of hemp on their 1,200 owned and rented acres just over the state line near Orangeville, Ill.

They sold last year’s dried crop after hand-harvesting with weed wackers. This year they used a forage chopper and are partnering with Zack’s brother-in-law, Zack Harris, in owning and operating a drying and processing facility in Monroe, Wis., to produce crude CBD oil. They work with Rock River Laboratory Inc. in Watertown, Wis., to test crop quality.

This year’s crop was “very good,” Zack Baker says — in line with last year’s 2 pounds per plant. Extra help was hired for harvest to supplement the seven-member fieldwork crew.

Zack and Chad have worked together for 15 years on the farm their parents started. They milk 110 to 120 cows.

Buchholz writes from Fond du Lac, Wis.

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