Making hemp approachable: Bringing this ancient crop from the farm to downtown
NICKERSON — When a Nickerson family started growing industrial hemp for CBD oil, the market was in its infancy in Kansas, and pricing was competitive. But two years later, the return on investment for this crop has diminished considerably.
After much thought, in late May, the Hiatt family who run High Point Family Farms decided to remove the middleman and opened a storefront on Main Street in Hutchinson — High Point Pharms.
They sell their own CBD oils, pet tinctures, bath bombs and lotions. They also sell lip balm and salves made out of their own hemp product. Some of the products in High Point Pharms' store are made by hand, including the body butter.
"I believe in this product. I use it for autoimmune arthritis," said Sara Hiatt, the matriarch of the family. "People like it for sleeping and anxiety."
Unlike at this shop, many CBD products sold in the Sunflower State did not originate on Kansas fields.
"We hope to eventually open more stores," Sara said. "We are continually trying to figure out what to do."
Fifth-generation farmers at Green Acres Farm in Dighton grow organic vegetables, wheat and beef. In 2019, they started growing hemp. Now they sell hemp CBD tinctures and orange gummies, in addition to other stock produced on their family farm, over the internet.
South Bend Industrial Hemp is selling its oils and hemp hearts at High Point Pharms at 321 N. Main St. in Hutchinson and also off their own farm in Great Bend.
The Hiatts share the responsibility for growing. But much of the weight falls on Nate, with all the other Hiatts pitching in. As for running the store, that rests on the shoulders of Nate's brother, Drew. Their parents, Sara and Bob, both help out on both the farm and the retail venture.
"I'm very passionate about helping people," said Drew. "What better way to help people than to sell the stuff that makes them feel better."
Growing industrial hemp for CBD is tough, especially when you have grown wheat, corn and soybeans like the Hiatts have. The crop requires more nurturing and more one-on-one care.
"What we do now is extremely large-scale gardening," Sara said.
Nate and his father Bob start the seedlings, which they must purchase from a reputable dealer, as these can make all the difference. They plant the seeds in their hoop house, always looking to take out the male plants — which could ruin the stock.
"We germinate in May," said Nate, who runs the hemp farm.
After about one month, they move the crop to their field, which is primed with cover crops of rye, hairy vetch and clover — which they roll over to flatten. To help with pests, sunflowers are planted outside both the hoop house and the fields.
"We try to bring (attract) the beneficial insects (with the flowers)," Nate said.
Nate's grandfather conventionally farms the land around the family's house. He, like his mother and father, grew up farming and using conventional practices, but Nate wants to treat the hemp field differently. With these two acres, he is practicing regenerative farming — not tilling, not using herbicides and having a living root in the ground at all times.
Last year, a portion of the Hiatts' 2,000 plants had to be destroyed, as they tested above the Kansas limit for THC. But Sara said they still had more than enough, about 2,000 pounds of biomass, to dry and send to a processor. Also, she quipped, it was a lot less to weed.
By early August, the plants start to flower and need to be harvested.
"We are continually learning what to do and what not to do," Nate said. "We're always trying new things."
Hemp growers decreased this year
The number of hemp producers in Kansas has decreased by more than 50% from two years ago, plummeting from more than 200 to about 80 this year, but the number of processors has increased to 11.
Most of the processors work with CBD; however, South Bend IH recently opened an industrial hemp processing facility, SBIH Processing in Great Bend.
In addition to selling their own CBD products and other natural non-THC hemp products produced in Kansas, the Hiatts are planning to sell other Kansas-made merchandise in their store. They are still deciding what types of products to sell.
"We were just wanting to grow and sell the crop — not the end product," Sara said. "The market forced us this way. It's not that we're not happy to be here. But it's not what we expected to happen."