Kansas’ first hemp fiber processing facility plants roots in Great Bend

National News

GREAT BEND, Kan. (KSNW) — Hemp is a crop many may not commonly associate with Kansas, but that could change with the help of a new facility that is making it easier for farmers to sell what they sow. 

Hemp by-products and the crop, in general, have grown in popularity across the country.

In Great Bend, South Bend Industrial Hemp has opened Kansas’ first hemp fiber processing facility, creating accessibility for farmers who may want to try their hand in the industry.

“This is a whole new industry and a very good way for farmers to supplement what they’re missing in the market,” said Richard Baldwin, co-owner of South Bend Industrial Hemp.

Hemp is similar to many Kansas crops. For fiber processing purposes, it is swathed, baled, and trucked to the facility. It can also be harvested for grain.

“The Midwest is really where this crop shines in terms of scalability, in terms of fiber production,” said Melissa Nelson Baldwin, Co-Owner South Bend Industrial Hemp.

When processing, two products come from the crop — bast fiber and woody hurd. “The bast is like the bark of a tree and the hurd is like the actual wood, so we separate those two into two different products,” said Richard.

The facility runs the crop through a series of state-of-the-art machines that clean, inspect, separate, and bag the crop, preparing it for its next step in the production chain and ultimately creating a bridge between a farmer’s field and manufacturing.

“We have to have the processing, if not, it’s just gonna be piled up and nowhere to go. It just won’t grow the industry without the middleman,” said Richard.

The product will be shipped to manufacturers across the country where it can be turned into items like cloth, plastic, paper, and rope. “As long as we can grow right here in the Midwest, close to our processors, keep our cost down for manufacturers, we can see this as a USA grown, processed, and manufactured product,” said Melissa.

As of now, the facility is contracted with nearly a dozen farmers and will be processing 1,000 acres of hemp with room to grow. One mission the owners have is to grow the industry by supporting farmers and helping them succeed at growing the crop.

“We could grow that all on our farm, but we don’t want to. We want to bring farmers in, help them get comfortable growing, basically give them a blueprint to be successful. So, when this scales in two to three years and we need tens of thousands of acres, we’ve got farmers that are already comfortable growing with it, and then we can give them premium pricing to do that,” said Melissa.

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