From seed to shelf
When enterprising people can’t find a product that suits their needs, the next step is often to produce it themselves. That’s why Mike and Leslie Halsema of Clark’s Hill, IN, started growing CBD hemp for their business, Halsema Hemp Farms. Although they had no previous farming experience, they received a state license in 2020 to grow hemp and determined what they needed to learn.
Prior to starting their enterprise, the Halsemas visited just one hemp grower in Indiana, then continued their self-education path. They outlined their start to finish process plan and worked with Marguerite Bolt, hemp Extension specialist at Purdue University, to learn more about growing hemp.
The Halsemas were advised to start small with a manageable crop. “First we had the soil tested,” said Mike. “The field we planted was a livestock pasture and the soil tests were good, so we had a nice blank slate to start with.”
When they first started growing CBD hemp, there were 400 licensees in Indiana. “This year there are 52,” said Mike. “When we first started, sales of the flower, just the bud, was legal in Indiana. Halfway through the season, the state outlawed flower sales, which is what a lot of people were going to do, and that’s why we went into making edibles.” Although the change in regulations forced the Halsemas to redo their business plan, they now realize their company is better for it.
After carefully researching CBD hemp varieties, Mike purchased seed from Oregon. “We look at the genetics and COAs [Certificates of Analysis],” he said. “I took a risk bringing seed from Oregon to Indiana, but it did well. The first year, we got lucky – it was such good seed. I’ve learned since that we have to find out how different seeds perform.” The first strains they tried included Midwest and Northwestern. Their star performer is Midwest, which Mike described as fruity with good disease resistance.
Seeds are sown inside in a climate-controlled germination room to manage humidity and temperature. Seeding directly into flats has yielded about 99% germination. Young plants are hardened off then planted outdoors in prepared beds.
Prior to planting, the Halsemas till the ground and place a plastic layer with drip irrigation underneath. When plants are about two weeks old, they’re planted outdoors with a tobacco planter, placed six feet apart to allow for growth and ample air movement. The Halsemas grow hemp using organic practices, and plan to become USDA Certified Organic.
As plants mature, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels rise. To track this critical number throughout the growing season, Mike sends samples to a lab for testing. “We can anticipate when it’s getting close,” he said. “The state inspector comes here and cuts down some plants for testing. Then we have 30 days to harvest everything.” Mike said if the weather becomes hot, THC levels can rise quickly because the plant produces THC as a defense system against the heat.
Disease and insects can ruin a hemp crop. The Halsemas are surrounded by corn and soybeans, but Leslie said neighboring farmers have been great to work with. “They watch for spray drift and we try to keep a border between our fields and theirs,” she said.
When it’s time for harvest, Mike removes buds from plants by hand and places them in plastic totes in the field. After harvest, he uses a machine to remove the leaves from the buds (flowers). The flowers are then placed in hanging baskets in a climate-controlled room with fans; temperature and humidity are monitored.
The room is maintained at 69º F to prevent mold. “I keep the humidity at about 62% so the flowers don’t break up,” said Mike. “As long as I keep everything fresh and dry, I can extract for a year.” After 10 days of drying, the flowers are ready for processing.
Rather than using solvents for the extraction process, Mike uses a NugSmasher. “I don’t use any chemicals,” he said. “This machine uses heat and pressure. Two stainless steel plates with heaters come together with pressure and melt the trichomes into a rosin. That’s the extract, then the decarboxylation process activates the rosin. After that, it’s ready to put into our products.”
The Halsemas’ first CBD product was honey. “We infused the honey and it was delicious,” said Mike. “Then we made gummies, chocolates, vape cartridges, pain cream, oral drops, infused whipped shea butter, massage cream and pet treats.”
Mike enjoys creating new products, and said in most cases, it’s a matter of a customer suggesting something different. “They might ask if we have lollipops, so we try making those,” he said. “For the most part, we’re making products people need. People like the fact that we’re seed to shelf and there’s no middleman.” Customers have access to paperwork from third-party testing, which allows them to see the contents of each product.
Leslie said the terpenes in the Midwest variety are great for anxiety and inflammation, and help many customers attain restful sleep. “People have been reporting to us that the lotions help with pain,” she said. “The chocolates help them sleep and their anxiety is going down.”
The Halsemas’ pet products are especially popular and are available in several retail locations. “One is a food depot for animals, the other is a boarding facility,” said Mike. “They give the Honey Hound treats to dogs with anxiety or pain.”
The couple works closely with customers to help them select the best CBD products for their needs. Their primary sales are through their online store, and they just opened an on-farm store. Mike said when they were ready to open for business, a radio ad for two weeks helped spread the word to new customers. Now most of their new customers are referred from others who have purchased Halsema hemp products.
The Halsemas are currently growing about 2,000 plants and have additional acreage that could easily be devoted to hemp. As the flowers from the current harvest dry, Mike is using last year’s harvest to make products. “I probably won’t use this year’s harvest until later in spring 2023,” said Mike. “I like to cure and age it for a little while.”
Visit Halsema Hemp Farms online at halsemahempfarms.com.
by Sally Colby
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