This is an original article written for Agri-View, a Lee Enterprises agricultural publication based in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit AgriView.com for more information.
by Lynn Grooms
ONE ROCK, Wisconsin – U.S. consumer sales of cannabidiol are forecast to reach about $1.9 billion in 2022. That’s a huge jump from 2014, when sales reached just $108 million. Following a similar trajectory, sales of legal cannabis are projected to hit $23 billion in 2025, according to Statista, a market and consumer-data analyst. And sales of industrial hemp are forecast to grow at an annual rate of 17 percent from now to 2030, according to Grand View Research.
That’s what Ed Liegel and his son, Sam Liegel, are counting on. They formed Driftless Extracts in 2019 to capitalize on the emerging cannabidiol market. Long-term they plan to expand into industrial hemp. The production of natural fibers such as hemp will have positive impacts on the local economy, Sam Liegel said.
He and his father are both agronomists. Ed Liegel in 2002 established Valley View Ag Services, a seed and crop-consulting company. His son joined that company in 2013 but a years later said he needed to either buy Valley View from his father or pursue a new direction.
“The hemp industry was new and we had an infrastructure in place,” Sam Liegel said. “But we would need a lot of funding.”
It just so happens his brother is a financial advisor and could help raise money for a new company. A recent investment by Kemin Industries of Des Moines is expected to help boost Driftless Extracts. A global ingredient manufacturer, Kemin supplies more than 500 specialty ingredients for several industries. Kemin’s nutrition and health division is adding Driftless Extracts hemp ingredients to its portfolio.
For the past couple of years the Liegels have been working with growers in Wisconsin’s Driftless and Central Sands areas to produce hemp for use in personal and industrial products. They’re working with five third-party processors to produce cannabinoid extracts and powders as well as hemp-fiber products.
A few of those growers produce certified-organic hemp. They’ve been selected based on how efficiently they can produce hemp on a commercial scale, Liegel said. The company extends one-year contracts to growers.
Philip Yoder of Hill Point, Wisconsin, began in 2020 to grow certified-organic hemp for the company. The crop can provide additional income, said Yoder, who has a 60-head herd of dairy goats and a small herd of beef cattle.
Yoder has grown hemp for cannabigerol – CBG. Cannabigerol serves as the precursor molecule for the two most abundant phytocannabinoids. It’s grown in the same manner and approach as growing hemp for cannabidiol production.
The difference is that cannabigerol varieties don’t increase in cannabidiol or tetrahydrocannabinol content as they approach maturity. They simply contain more cannabigerol in their flowers so the risk of exceeding the legal limit of .03 percent tetrahydrocannabinol for the crop is almost entirely mitigated, Liegel said.
Both cannabidiol and cannabigerol are said to provide many of the same potential health and wellness benefits – such as reducing pain, stress and anxiety. But studies investigating their therapeutic potential show cannabigerol’s effects are more potent because of the way it binds with endocannabinoid-system receptors, according to the National Hemp Association.
Cannabigerol has the potential to garner good returns on investment, but there are challenges. Raising hemp is labor-intensive, Yoder said. He’s transplanted hemp plants into plastic to help reduce weed pressures. He has drip-fed fertilizer, which increases workload. If he grows hemp again he said he plans to use a grain drill to plant seed, as well as widen rows so he can use a field cultivator between them.
Hemp yields can be limited by various fungal diseases and insects. Some Cannabis sativa varieties have good natural disease resistance, Ed Liegel said, but timely fungicide applications are important. “We use them to avoid botrytis, especially when hemp is nearing maturity,” he said.