Hemp cultivation could help counter the devastating effects of years of pesticide spraying on Florida’s declining citrus industry, according to a Tarpon Springs-based company that is developing a strategy based on treating the plant’s stems.
Growing hemp to draw toxins from the soil could give specialty orange, grapefruit and citrus orchards a chance to fight citrus greening disease (also called Huang Long Bin (HLB)), a major contributor to the industry’s decline in Florida, according to cannabis veteran Robert Clayton, CEO and Director Technology Executive at Fi Bear, a supply chain developer exploring a range of fiber core applications.
“HLB is what you get when your trees are too sick to fight Citrus psilide (The bug) that injects bacteria, “Clayton said of the disease. I think that’s the end result of fifty years of spraying trees four times a year. Chemicals are killing the biome and cannabis shows that in a big way.”
Soil is toxic
This phenomenon is illustrated by the cannabis fields that Fi Bear planted in a former orchard. “The soil is toxic. Hemp is yellow and anemic where the trees once grew,” Clayton said. “But it is green and healthy in rows between the trees where the grass grew.”
In addition to citrus greening disease, Florida growers are also under pressure from foreign competition as the industry is expected to reach its lowest production numbers since the start of World War II this year, according to USDA estimates. Service (Nass).
Production has fallen steadily since the turn of the century, with the value of the dollar dropping nearly 60% from $1.4 billion in 2000 to $579 million in 2021, NASS figures show, as citrus orchards drop from 712,000 acres to 407,348 acres during the same period. .
cycle of death
First reported in China in 1929, insects infected with citrus greening disease arrived in Florida in 2005. The disease puts trees into a death cycle as they begin to bear less bitter, distorted fruits unsuitable as fresh fruit or for juice production.
Farmers use neonicotinoids Insecticides to fight cellulites, but sprays also kill natural pollinators and predators, interrupting the normal growth and fruiting of trees, thus exacerbating problems in the state’s citrus orchards.
“It’s easy to criticize farmers for using neonicotinoids, but these are fourth-generation farmers and it kills them until they lose their grandfather’s orchard,” Clayton said. “I really think a few years of cannabis cultivation will allow them to go back to citrus if the cannabis is starved or they develop tolerant varieties.”
‘Sense of mission’
“It also feeds us a sense of mission for cannabis, because we’ve seen it up close and personal,” Clayton said of the challenges to growing citrus in Florida. “My cannabis grower is a former citrus grower, and I want him to have a future on his family’s farm.”
Clayton said the need to stabilize the citrus industry creates a unique opportunity for cannabis. In addition to growing hemp to clean the soil, Fi Bear develops processes to turn hemp stalks into things like building materials, toilet paper, plant and animal coverings, and cat litter.
Farmers can also finally benefit from carbon credits, a sector under development in the USA. “The jury is still out,” Clayton says. Exxon wants $50 a ton and President Biden wants $150 a ton. Fifty dollars saves only 12% on costs. It won’t save the farm, but $150 a ton saves 36%. This has meaning.”
In contrast to the “Field of Dreams” (“build it you come”) strategy of large scale and highly enthusiastic fiber startups in many parts of the USA, Fi Bear takes a more sober approach to the production side, making plans to grow and process hemp fibers At affordable increments by focusing on core consumer-oriented products transformed through highly flexible and scalable operations that can expand through the gradual introduction of different machines to diversify output.
Supply Chain Synchronization
Processing should be close to the farm and preferably on it. The company hopes to use agriphotovoltaics To run processing on farms, which are often far from abundant energy sources.
“Processing consumes 80% of the carbon savings generated by cannabis. Go there for your carbon balances,” says Clayton. “Agriphotovoltaics take 25% of sunlight from plants, but we have plenty of sun and lots of sun excretes a lot of THC. We think it will keep us friendly and legal.”
The company has learned how to assemble hemp stalks with a small baler from Asia that makes round bales 20 inches in circumference and 30 inches in length, and weighing just 28 pounds. This eliminates the need for handling machinery in the field and warehouse, which reduces costs. Smaller bales also dry faster so that bales can be worked sooner, reducing the risk of spontaneous combustion from fermented biomass that can lead to barn fires. It’s a handy size for artisanal cannabis work, Clayton said, and allows access to just about anyone.
In Fi Bear’s vision, these bales of mobile micro-shelling technology can be introduced into a small, easy-to-replicate production chain that reduces entry cost compared to the huge capital expenditures required for large-scale hulling plants, Clayton noted. “We want fiber on demand, not fiber in the warehouse,” he said.
Charge every Friday
However, Clayton, who built the first hemp concrete homes in the USA in 2014, said: “Making an exotic concrete house every few years is not going to keep your farmers aboard, your factory running, or your bank happy.” to cover salaries.
This means that multiple deliverables are required for any viable business. “Toilet paper is better than hemp concrete from that perspective,” Clayton said. “Bankers prefer the toilet benefits of hemp paper over the commendable benefits of hemp concrete.”
While Florida may not be the largest state for hemp because it contains only 1% of the country’s farmland, its 11-month growth window means it could be the most efficient grower and fiber processor in the United States, according to Clayton.
“We can literally sow and harvest every week, but your yields will change during the year,” Clayton said. “We save $850,000 a year in warehouse costs. The females live in the winter so it looks like the grain is a winter crop. The state of Florida did research on that in 1955 and it did well, but the cannabis processors went bankrupt in 1957. They also don’t know about it. tetrahydrocannabinol at that time”.
But there are challenges. Researchers in the state have struggled to find cannabis varieties that will thrive and still meet the rules governing maximum amounts of THC in Florida’s tropical and subtropical climates, which are characterized by short daylight hours, high levels of humidity and high temperatures.
Fi Bear is also dealing with this situation, generating enough returns to move forward with his plan, according to Clayton. “If our work proves correct, the center of gravity of cannabis could approach the subtropics,” he said. “Our work is highly applicable in North Africa, India or the Middle East.”