OCILLA — Thomas Farmer, Clay Taber and Will Wingate are men with a mission. The trio founded Second Century Ag with the goal of providing south Georgia farmers with another crop to add to their rotation.
As soon as it became legal to grow hemp, the trio immediately saw an opportunity for farmers in the region. Hemp was a common crop in south Georgia until WW II when its close resemblance to its notorious cousin, marijuana, clouded the waters and put an end to its cultivation.
The state of Tennessee passed legislation that made it legal under the 2014 Farm Bill to grow hemp in that state. This was the birth of Second Century, whose principles are currently growing hemp and bringing home the lessons they learn.
“We grew 108 acres, successfully I might add, and really learned a lot,” Farmer said. “We made a lot of mistakes, but we were learning as we went, knowing the whole time our goal was to come back to Georgia and help farmers here to grow the crop and also getting into the processing side of the business, taking the biomass from them and turning it into CBD oil.”
Hemp is grown for the industrial use in a variety of products including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation biofuel food products and oil. It is a fast-growing plant and was one of the first plants to be spun into usable fiber more than 50,000 years ago when it was turned into clothing.
Although marijuana plants and industrial hemp derive from the same species and contain the psychoactive component THC, the hemp strains approved for agricultural cultivation in the United States must have a THC level below .3%, eliminating any potential psychoactive effect.
“You better pay attention to your labels and buy your CBD from a reputable source,” Farmer said. “Some CBD oil, and it could be very good CBD oil, might have the level below .3% of THC and still be picked up on a drug test. We will also make a version of CBD oil that is guaranteed to be THC free.”
With this reality in mind, Second Century has geneticists working to create a strain that is perfectly acclimated to south Georgia’s weather, climate and soil. Another goal is to develop strains that are within the legally acceptable levels of THC.
“Really, our model is based on a tobacco model,” Farmer said. “The plant has a lot of similarities to tobacco. We are using transplanters to put the clones in the ground. We’re growing the clones instead of growing from seed. We use modified tobacco harvesters to harvest the crop and dry the crop in tobacco-flue barns. A lot of our farmers have tobacco farming experience. That fits in very well with the type of farming we are doing.”
Second Century plans to become a wholesale provider with nationwide distribution capabilities. However, its principles say they realize for them to be successful the farmers growing hemp in south Georgia have to be successful as well. So they went beyond providing clones for planting to building a processing plant in Ocilla to produce oil.
The company developed Hemp University, which offers an opportunity for farmers that are interested in adding hemp to their crop rotation to learn how the whole process: form planting to cultivation to feeding and watering to harvesting techniques.
Farmer explained that hemp has several characteristics that make it an interesting crop option for farmers.
“Hemp is an environmentally friendly crop,” he said. “For our use, it has to be essentially an organically grown crop with no pesticide. It is also a soil rejuvenating plant.
“We’re just a bunch of Georgia boys working to create a new revenue stream for those guys.”