Arable Labs: Tell us a little background about your farm. This is your first year growing hemp in North Carolina, right?Charles Dietzel:
That’s right. We’re in the southeastern part of the state, where the sandhills meet the coastal plain, historically one of the larger agricultural parts of the state. There’s a lot of interest in hemp and a lot of people are exploring it, slowly dipping their toes in to see what makes sense here, given the rich agricultural history and the slow transition over the past several decades, away from what has been the cash crop for North Carolina: tobacco. We are seventh-generation North Carolina farmers, very proud to be one of a handful of what are called Century Farms
within the state of North Carolina. The land that our family owns has been part of our heritage for over two hundred years.AL: Incredible. What was the a-ha moment, when the light bulb turned on and you decided to grow hemp?CD:
As you can expect, the way the business has been run has changed over the generations. As I come into my own, my dad and I have started to think about succession planning. We spent the last 18–24 months evaluating our different options, not only what to do with our property, but with our agroforestry experience. We looked at everything from livestock to getting back into specialty row crops for brewing. We stumbled upon hemp about twelve months ago, at the start of the first full season here in North Carolina. We spent about four months on industry research before we went forward with our license, and now we’re in the midst of getting ready for our own first season. We spent a great deal of time coming up with our plans for our field, from irrigation, to specialized machinery, to ensuring that we’re going to be able to deliver a quality product to market. One of the core things for us was to be able to collect as much information this first year as possible.
It’s a very labor-intensive crop, so I’d say acreage-wise, our operation is small, but labor-wise, it’s not. We have an experimental plot this year, with plans to scale fairly significantly over the next couple of years, as long as we can keep costs in check. As a commodity, there’s a number of different uses for hemp, and different ways that you can grow it: for fiber; protein powder; other types of products made from the hulls, the husks, or the heart; plastics, and being able to build out other industries across the United States. We saw the diverse applications of hemp. The hot topic right now in this industry is CBD, and the regulations behind it. There is an obvious consumer base for that, across the country. Now, how long that lasts and how long until it stabilizes remains to be seen from a commodity perspective. I think it’s unclear where the pricing on that is going to settle out; there’s no market like there is for corn, soybean, or cotton. You can’t go to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and say, ‘All right, this is how much a ton of hemp is worth today.’ The industry is so immature — and that’s exciting for someone like myself, who has the technology and data background to be able to enter into an area really like an ag start-up. We can partner with companies like Arable to be as cutting-edge as we can while still embracing the traditional agricultural aspects of the industry.