âOur thematic goal was to look for alternative crops that have a higher value.â
WATERFORD â Mark Troyer, former owner of the Troyer potato chip company, understands the benefits of proximity.
Access to buyers means lower shipping costs and higher profits.
Itâs part of the reason it makes so much sense for Troyer Growers, which grows more than 600 acres of potatoes, to sell millions of pounds of them each year to Shearerâs Snack Foods, which owns his old chip plant.
That plant, after all, is located a few hundred feet, not a few hundred miles, from some of his storage facilities.
Now, Troyer is looking to apply that same approach to a new crop.
Thanks to the 2018 federal farm bill and Pennsylvaniaâs industrial hemp program, Troyer is one of five Erie County farmers licensed to grow industrial hemp from which increasingly popular CBD or cannabidiol products can be made.
But Troyer, who grew 7 acres of industrial hemp last year and plans to grow at least 20 this year, intends to do more than grow the crop.
Troyer, who is the president of Troyer Growers and a new company, Farmulated CBD, has launched what he believes is the regionâs only integrated CBD company that will grow, process and market its own products.
Troyer isnât getting out of the potato business. In fact, he spent about $2 million last year on new facilities and equipment.
âWe love that business,â he said. âOur thematic goal was to look for alternative crops that have a higher value, something that has a higher profit potential.â
That led him to industrial hemp, a crop that was illegal for 75 years.
For now, thanks to the growing chatter about the health benefits of CBD, itâs worth a premium â far more than corn, a crop that Troyer grows a 1,000 acres of each year.
But the same impulses that led his family to develop a potato chip plant in 1967, are telling him that heâs better served to grow, process and market his own products.
âFarmers have a way of overproducing,â Troyer said. âAnd I am pretty sure farmers are going to overproduce in this category.â
Thatâs why Troyer Growers and Farmulated CBD, the processing side of the business, have invested more than $500,000 in the new business, said Tricia Restifo, vice president of finance and operations for Troyerâs companies.
âWe are a vertically integrated CBD company, as far as I know, the only one in this area,â Troyer said.
The plants that grew last summer in Troyerâs fields and that continue to grow in his greenhouse now look like every photo youâll find of a marijuana plant.
The plants are cousins, Troyer said.
The big difference is that industrial hemp contains less than 0.3 percent THC, the main psychoactive component of marijuana.
Marijuana, by comparison, typically contains more than 4 percent.
Because the plants are so similar in appearance, the government will be keeping a close eye on his operation and those of other hemp growers, Troyer said.
As a result, his fields are GPS mapped, heâs been fingerprinted and is subject to search at any time, day or night.
Troyer has no objections.
âThatâs not our game,â he said. âIâve never taken a puff of marijuana in my life. Thatâs not what weâre doing. We will never be about that. We donât want to get into the recreational side of it.â
Troyer and Restifo believe thereâs plenty of room to expand on the CBD side of the business. In fact, she said Farmulated hopes to buy and market hemp from other area growers.
âWe want to work together,â she said.
Restifo said Farmulated has begun selling products under its own name, but up to this point, those products have been produced by another company.
That will change within the next few weeks. On a tour last week, chemist Jake Vallimont demonstrated some of the equipment the company is using to de-stem and ultimately transform the dried buds into CBD oil.
Itâs a technical and complex process.
Troyer points to one plastic, computer-sized box, for instance, a $27,000 machine that analyzes the THC content of the CBD.
âItâs like âBreaking Bad,ââ Restifo said, a reference to the AMC television show about a chemistry teacher who cooks meth in a converted RV.
The difference is that Farmulatedâs product will be made in a lab and itâs legal.
Despite the legality, old rules continue to make it difficult for growers and processors of hemp and legal marijuana to find banks that will handle their money.
âMarquette (Savings Bank) is our commercial banker,â Restifo said. âYou donât know how hard it was to get a bank to work with us.â
Troyer and Restifo believe there will be other challenges ahead.
Along with the Erie County Farm Bureau, Farmulated CBD has invited the media and state legislators to an upcoming tour of its new processing facility, where construction was underway last week.
Troyer said Farmulated plans to sell its products through its website, www.farmulatedcbd.com, as well as through local retailers and at its retail location in Waterford.
Jim Martin can be reached at 870-1668 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ETNMartin.