An Oregon hemp food company has made vegetable oil and protein powder from seeds grown by a Washington state tribe, a milestone for Washington's minuscule hemp industry.
Hemp Northwest, based in Hood River, took in hemp seeds harvested from about 100 acres by the Colville Confederated Tribes in northeast Washington. It was apparently the first Washington-grown hemp commercially processed since federal lawmakers allowed controlled cultivation four years ago.
Hemp Northwest CEO Tonia Farman said the first-year company acquired more seeds from North Dakota and Minnesota, but hopes the tribe and other Northwest farmers will become the major suppliers.
"We were so excited when we connected with Colville. We want them to produce more. We would love to see them double their acreage," she said Wednesday. "Midwest farmers are wonderful, but we would love to have the hemp grown by farmers regionally."
While Oregon and other states report fast-growing lists of hemp farmers and processors, Washington's hemp industry has been nearly nonexistent. A few processors have obtained licenses, but the Colville tribe grew the only licensed hemp crop in the state this summer, the second season the state Department of Agriculture has allowed cultivation.
A Moses Lake farm grew hemp in 2017, but the crop remains in storage, a partner in that endeavor said Wednesday. Two other smaller growers also reported being unable to find customers.
The Colville tribe grew 60 acres of hemp in 2017. The tribe reported that it had interested buyers for the plant's fiber, but the crop was not good enough to sell. The Colville tribe began developing a hemp program in 2015, according to the tribe's hemp coordinator, Jackie Richter.
"The tribe believes that hemp, along with a wider regenerative agricultural program, can have a significant positive economic impact on Colville tribal members, in Indian Country and beyond," Richter said in a written statement.
Compared to many states, Washington has strictly regulated hemp production to avoid getting ahead of federal law and to protect the state's marijuana industry.
Washington prohibits extraction from hemp flowers to make cannabidoid or cannabidoil, called CBD. The product is marketed as a nutritional supplement and is a fast-growing and lucrative segment of the hemp industry. Washington also forbids growing hemp within 4 miles of a marijuana grow to prevent cross-pollination.
The 2018 Farm Bill, passed this week by the House and Senate, will remove hemp from the federal list of illegal drugs. States, however, still must license and inspect hemp crops to ensure they don't become marijuana, and the Farm Bill does not change Washington's hemp laws, an agriculture department spokesman said Wednesday.
Hemp Northwest opened this year and sells products regionally under its brand, Queen of Hearts Hemp Foods. The company presses seeds into vegetable oil. The husks become protein powder to add to drinks and baked goods. Hemp Northwest does not make CBD.
Manufacturing CBD is more capital intensive than pressing the seeds. For the farmer, prices are much higher for CBD than for hemp foods.
Farman said she estimates a farmer needs at least 50 acres to make growing hemp for food profitable. "It's priced like a food — low margins," she said.
She said she expects CBD prices to fall as production rises and that larger-scale farmers will be attracted to what she hopes will be a more stable hemp-foods market. "We're playing the long game," she said.
Farman said she hopes the Farm Bill will make banking easier for hemp businesses. She said she couldn't open a bank account for Hemp Northwest and has had use personal checking accounts. She said she was able to open an account for Queen of Hearts.