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Vermont’s record hemp harvest sees winners and losers

“I was just looking at this bud structure.
Is this something they would go with for today?” “Yeah.” “Okay.” “You ready to rock and roll?” Finding the perfect hemp plant to harvest
isn’t as easy as it looks. “This is our second round on this section.
We’ll find different sections because they ripen at different times.” Cutters move through the fields, picking out
the ripest plants one at a time. “In the morning we’ll find out where the
ripest section is and then pick through that, leave some for the next day, and maybe it’ll
be three days after we get to that and let it ripen up some more…” “It’s like Zelda.” With facilities in Hyde Park and Hardwick,
Sunsoil is one of Vermont’s largest hemp companies. This fall, the company has hired
about 200 workers to cut, move, and break down whole hemp plants for processing. “In this view here is about 40 acres that
we’ve farmed. We’ve got another ten acres past a row of hedges…” Once the plants are cut, workers load them
onto trailers, then hang them up in a custom-built drying barn. After about 36 hours, the plants
are ready to be broken down. Workers separate the leaves and flowers from the stalks. Then they load the usable product into food-grade
plastic bags, where it’s held until it’s ready to be processed into an extract. Sunsoil is part of a burgeoning hemp industry
thanks to the popularity of cannabidiol, or CBD, as an alternative medicine. “We think this is going to be commoditized.
We hope we can get this to a competitive price point with Advil.” “We always say we’re trying to democratize
CBD, just to make it more accessible for people.” But that doesn’t mean it’s a cash crop
for everyone. In 2018, the federal Farm Bill made it clear that it was legal to plant hemp
for sale in Vermont. New growers flooded the state — this year, more than 1100 growers
have registered, more than double the number last year. “Farmers are going into this without knowledge
of where they’re going to dry their products in a sanitary environment, and without knowledge
of where they’re going to fit into the supply chain. They don’t have a market for it.” Now, industry experts say some farmers are
being left without anywhere to process or sell their crop. “We get emails from folks wanting to sell
us wet product because they have nowhere to dry it. And that’s literally about half
our work. If you look out here and see what everybody’s doing, we’re just working
towards getting this product dried right now.” “It’s a huge effort. We’re seeing a
lot of crops that haven’t even started to be harvested yet. And with the weather coming
now, the plants aren’t going to last long.” “They’re going to rot in the field, a
good percentage of them.” “There’s been estimates — I don’t
want to throw numbers out without checking — but a significant amount of the hemp being
grown nationally has no market.” The hemp supply is also driving down prices,
which is leaving some small growers without a profit. But for larger companies like Sunsoil
that both grow and extract their product, that price drop will only solidify their position
in the market. “Unless you’re vertically integrated,
it’s really going to be a race to the bottom in terms of deflationary pricing. This industry
is rewarding a lot of first movers. As it quickly becomes competitive, efficiency’s
going to become a must just for survival as a company.”

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