Budding Industry: Local farm harvests first hemp crop


SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Merj, a family farm in Sullivan County, has hosted cattle, corn and alfalfa for six decades. For the first time this fall, they’re harvesting hemp.

“It’s an opportunity for us to hire a lot of people. It’s an opportunity for us to convert land that was basically idol into something that’s productive for the community,” Chief Operating Officer Howard Broadfoot said. “It’s the fastest growing industry in America right now, the hemp industry. I expect it’ll be revolutionary for the economy of this area of the country.”

Crews at Merj harvest the farm’s first hemp crop.

The 2018 Farm Bill paved the way for industrial hemp cultivation in the United States.

In 2015, there were just 49 hemp growers licensed by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. That number grew to 226 by the end of 2018.

Today, Broadfoot said Merj is one of the largest licensed growers in the state.

“We’re one of the only growers that have our own extraction facility so not only do we grow the hemp but we also have the capability of converting it into a product that’s sellable,” he said.

That product is cannabidiol (CBD), a sister of marijuana with lower levels of the psychoactive component THC.

Broadfoot said Merj is licensed for just over 200 acres but they’re only growing 20 acres this year–about 17 thousand individual plants.

For their first harvest, he said they’re trying three strains known to grow well in the region.

Two different hemp plants grow side-by-side at Merj Farm.

“For our farm, for our particular soil, for our sunlight, for our irrigation, we don’t know which one grows the best so we’re growing all three this year and then we’ll decide next year what we grow, whether it’s two varieties, three again or maybe even a fourth variety,” Broadfoot said.

He said the plants harvested so far are bigger than expected but some still need a few more weeks in the field. He said by the first week of November, all of them should be cut and hung in the barn to dry.

He said the hemp has to dry for a couple of weeks before the plants are transferred to Merj’s 18 thousand square foot processing facility in Bristol, Tennessee.

Broadfoot said, because they handle the product from soil to shelf, Merj products will be some of the purest on the market.

He said Merj’s CBD is expected to be in stores by spring 2020.

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