LS20190921-Hemp-Golden-1.jpg

Andy and Vincent Golden stand with a hemp plant at their farm in Portage, Pennsylvania.

Andy Golden doesn’t just want to grow hemp. He wants to grow the CBD industry in Pennsylvania.

Golden plans to start partial processing of hemp for the health supplement oil this fall at his family farm in Portage, Cambria County.

An Army veteran who runs a malting and milling business, Golden got into hemp for two reasons.

It’s an emerging opportunity for small farmers, and the CBD can be used to help people.

Supporters say the chemical can alleviate myriad health problems, but its regulatory status is unsettled.

Golden will be partially processing hemp — his own crop and others’ — on the farm.

Farmers will be able to wholesale the resulting value-added product for further processing.

“Our goal is to become a processing hub,” he said.

Golden has made contact with several farmers in surrounding counties, and there’s a large-scale farmer from Wisconsin who can supply plant material to maximize Golden’s production.

In time, Golden plans to offer processing that will remove all the THC from the crop. That’s the chemical that gives marijuana users a high, and hemp can legally have only a tiny amount of it.

THC removal should open more markets and improve profitability for farmers, Golden said.

Golden grew 11 acres of hemp this year. “We didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew this year,” he said.

He bought greenhouse plants and transplanted them in early June.

He got several varieties to see what would grow best. Though they have different growth habits — some 7 feet tall, others wide and bushy — most have done well.

Cherry Wine, one of the most popular CBD varieties, has performed particularly well.

“There’s no shocker with that,” Golden said.

The farm is certified organic, but Golden couldn’t find a organic greenhouse within a reasonable distance that was growing hemp seedlings.

As a result, his hemp crop is not certified organic. But with a dearth of sprays labeled for the crop, it’s already standard for the crop to be grown without pesticides.

Paying for the crop to be certified organic doesn’t seem to add much value, Golden said.

An agronomist friend comes every week to scout for pests and diseases, and take leaf samples to test nutrient levels.

Golden started getting the flowers tested for CBD and THC levels in early September.

Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Russell Redding visited the Goldens’ farm this summer to check out the hemp crop.

“It was a good visit. You could tell that he really cared about farming and the farmer,” Golden said.

Golden doesn’t have any written contracts for his crop, but he said he’s developed a pretty good network of brokers who he thinks will be willing to buy when he has something to deliver.

“Anybody’s hesitant to give you a contract when you’re not producing anything yet,” he said.

In the meantime, he’s helped a number of farmers and labs get connected with each other.

He’s found most people in the hemp industry to be amiable so far, though he thinks the business climate might become more competitive as CBD production expands.

After college, Golden spent a decade in the Army, rising to the rank of major in the Special Forces. His last job was as aide-de-camp to the commander of the Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan.

When he returned to civilian life, Golden hoped to start a business, and he saw no better place than the farm where he’d grown up between Johnstown and Altoona.

He started Appalachian Malting with his father, Vincent.

The two grow specialty grains — buckwheat, spelt, barley, rye — on their 150-acre farm.

With his malting and milling equipment, Golden turns the grains into malt for craft brewers and distillers, and sprouted and regular flours for home bakers.

Some people with digestive issues can tolerate those niche flours easier than enriched white flour.

“It has a really good taste to it, almost like a nutty taste,” he said.

Golden never considered malting, or sprouting, hemp seeds.

It’s probably possible, but until the Food and Drug Administration makes clearer rules on hemp use in food and drinks, there probably would be little market for that product, he said.

He will use some of the malting equipment to dry down the crop, he said.

In preparation for his first harvest, Golden has been spending September procuring his last pieces of equipment and getting processing training in Colorado.

With manufacturers anticipating big demand this fall, the processing equipment is fairly easy to get right now, he said.

Next year, Golden hopes to scale up his own production and process for more farmers.

“We’ll never be able to grow us as much as the lab can put out, so we’ll always need other farmers to be part of this with us,” Golden said.