Hemp industry takes another step forward
The co-founders of South Boston-based Golden Piedmont Labs want to give the county a boost by processing hemp from local farmers.
“We were looking for a way to give back,” says Rick Gregory, who started Golden Piedmont Labs with Sterling Edmunds Jr. Both are Halifax County natives with extensive backgrounds in real estate and finance. Helping rural communities make products from hemp that can find “success in global markets” will assist the local economy, Gregory says. So far, the company has approximately 100 growers under contract.
In October, Golden Piedmont Labs opened its 33,000-square-foot hemp-processing facility in Houghton Industrial Park, previously home to a Blue Ridge Beverage distribution center. It’s the first hemp processor in Virginia, which has seen a nascent industrial hemp industry grow as the result of state and federal legislation passed since 2018.
“We tore out everything and started from scratch,” says company president Steve Mize. “We have clean rooms for manufacturing with the same kind of floors and ventilators as surgical floors, and we’ve been getting extra certifications. We want to do food-grade products.”
Growing hemp is similar to growing tobacco, so farmers won’t have a large capital outlay for equipment. “This is a good, long-term, renewable product for farmers,” Mize says. “There are so many different things it can be used for.”
The processing facility will be able to produce an output of about 3 million pounds of industrial hemp per year.
“By establishing this large hemp-processing facility in a geographic center of industrial hemp production, Golden Piedmont Labs will directly address one of the biggest challenges facing the growth of industrial hemp in Virginia, a lack of local markets,” says Bettina Ring, Virginia’s secretary of agriculture and forestry.
Golden Piedmont Labs will buy all of its goods from the region and will “bring in $15 million to $20 million of hemp this year,” Gregory says. “That goes into the local and state economy.”
Though a variety of hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) oil products are legal and widely available for sale, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved only one CBD product, an anti-epilepsy medication. The FDA released preliminary guidelines this summer on approval of other products, including CBD-infused food and beverages. Once those rules are finalized, demand will likely increase, Gregory says.
“We are already being contacted by huge companies that want to put it in things like sports drinks and power bars. We see a bright future for it.”