Ohio Hemp Company signs contract to grow hemp for bioplastics

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Hemp plants grow at the Ohio Hemp Company's farm in Dayton, Ohio. (Submitted photo)

DAYTON, Ohio — TJ Richardson and Justin Helt were some of the first producers in Ohio to grow hemp after Gov. Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 57 in 2019, legalizing hemp production in Ohio.

The pair started growing 11,000 cannabinoid hemp plants, CBD plants, on three acres of land in 2020. Eventually, they transitioned to growing grain and fiber hemp plants, following the fast-growing market for fiber hemp.

Now, nearly four years after their first plants went in the ground, Richardson and Helt’s Ohio Hemp Company landed its first contract with Michigan-based Heartland Industries to produce a bio-plastic made with hemp fiber.

“My grandpa always says that hemp is the most exciting new thing in agriculture since soybeans in the 50s,” Helt said. “That gives you a little perspective on how often something like this comes along. We see a huge trajectory path for this crop to grow in the state.”

A new partnership

Richardson and Helt knew from the start that growing industrial hemp provided a long list of possible end-use products. To explore these new outlets, they started connecting with hemp-using companies close to Ohio.

One of these companies was Heartland Industries based in Detroit, Michigan. Heartland Industries was founded in 2020 as a hemp processing facility.

In the beginning, there was a steep learning curve for growing and processing hemp. Heartland Industries and farmers had to learn how to plant the crop all over again.

“It had been illegal for 80 years, a lot of the knowledge and planting equipment has been either lost or transitioned to corn, soybean and wheat,” said Tim Almond, chairman and co-founder of Heartland Industries. “Farmers didn’t know what technology would work. So we had to understand how to plant the crop all over again.”

In 2022, Heartland Industries partnered with Ravago, a Belgian plastic production company, to create bioplastics using industrial hemp. Ravago and Heartland produce bio-plastic products for the automotive industry.

Similar to the way regular plastic products are made, industrial hemp is made into hemp nurdles — small pellets — and then mixed with plastic nurdles to produce a hemp-based bioplastic. The bioplastic is made up of 30% hemp fiber and 70% plastic.

“Everybody wants to have a product that’s better for the environment, but it’s hard to do it if it compromises the cost and it compromises performance,” said Almond. “We found a happy balance with the plastic manufacturing world where we can use this ingredient at 30% in the recipe, and we could see cost savings, we can see weight reduction, we can see performance maintaining the same, but most importantly we can see the reduction in carbon footprint.”

Heartland Industries partners with farmers in the Midwest to source hemp. The company does the first level of processing the plant before sending it on to Ravago to produce the final product.

Ohio Hemp Co. expands

Richardson and Helt’s pitch to produce industrial hemp for bioplastics couldn’t have come at a better time. Heartland initially partnered with farmers in Michigan but recently began expanding into Illinois, Indiana and, now, Ohio.

The contract between Ohio Hemp Co. and Heartland Industries started in March and is a non-binding, year-to-year product purchase contract for Ohio Hemp Co. to supply Heartland Industries with hemp fiber.

TJ Richardson and Justin Helt
(From left to right) TJ Richardson and Justin Helt in the field at the Ohio Hemp Company farm in Dayton, Ohio. (Submitted photo)

The Ohio Hemp Company started growing dual-purpose hemp — grain and fiber hemp — in 2022 solely for research purposes. Last year, the Ohio Hemp Company grew 100 acres of it. This year they plan on doubling that amount for their new partnership with Heartland Industries. 

Additionally, Helt and Richardson are already planning to add necessary infrastructure to accomodate the expansion. So far, they have considered using different hemp varieties and building a storage and processing facility.

For Helt, this contract marks a huge milestone for the company. But, he adds, it also signifies a high demand for hemp and a growing marketplace in Ohio.

“It means everything to the growth of this company and to the growth of the industry in (Ohio) to have a major processor (with) a great demand,” said Helt. “All the different pieces of the puzzle are finally coming into place to create an entire industry from front end to back end, from the plant in the field all the way to the end consumer. It’s beautiful to see.”

(Liz Partsch can be reached at epartsch@farmanddairy.com or 330-337-3419.)

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3 COMMENTS

  1. If I may suggest: The generations of today. Please learn from the mistakes of past generations–your fathers/mothers. After all isn’t that what we, as beings, are supposed to do?!
    Bioplastics aren’t what the powers that be what us to believe they are. Beware, Be-aware
    Educate yourselves: Look up headings like:
    1)
    Bioplastics: sustainable solution or distraction from the plastic waste crisis?
    Biodegradable and plant-based plastics are booming — but still come with climate and chemical concerns.
    Meg Wilcox Mar 11, 2024
    2)
    From; Wikipedia…Bioplastics must be recycled similar to fossil-based plastics to avoid plastic pollution;…

  2. Bioplastics.
    The youth of today–the movers and the shakers of tomorrow–who care about tomorrow must learn what bioplastics are and what they are Not. They must understand what they truly are! That is if anyone truly cares?
    Look up any heading similar to: https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2017/12/13/the-truth-about-bioplastics/
    The industry and individuals alike only see profit. The demise of you and your children are of no concern if $Money$ is Not part of the national equation!

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