#9. Advice for Hemp Businesses Navigating the COVID19 Pandemic From the Executive Director of the NC Industrial Hemp Association – with Blake Butler
This week I talk with Blake Butler, Executive Director of the North Carolina Industrial Hemp Association. In this short podcast (audio and video available), Blake shares what he’s hearing from his associations’ members, the likelihood of the state banning smokeable hemp and good advice and encouragement for navigating the current COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you are in the hemp and cannabis industry or a related industry, this one is worth a listen for considering how to take action during a crisis.
You can learn more about Blake and his association here: https://www.ncindhemp.org/
On Twitter https://twitter.com/NCHempIndustry
On Facebook https://www.facebook.com/NCIndustrialHempAssociaton
About Blake Butler
Blake Butler is the co-founder of HempX and has been involved in the political, business, and activist side of industrial hemp industry in since 2014. Blake has organized hemp focused educational events in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia and planted hemp for fiber and CBD with farming partners Franny and Jeff Tacy in 2017-18. Blake is also a partner in Adapt Public Relations in Asheville, NC.
Jason De Los Santos: [00:00:00] Hey guys, Jason Hugh with spectrum labs. I’ve got a short episode for you today. This one is with Blake Butler. He is the executive director of the North Carolina industrial hemp association. In, in this short episode, we talk about Blake’s conversations or, or insights from some of his different members.
some might be feeling optimism towards the future, some might be feeling worried about their businesses and what might happen, throughout and after this. The Cove in 19 crisis. He also shares some insights about what do you think about during this downtime or possible downtime for some of you about the future opportunities, innovating possible partnerships.
And then he also shares some, positive messages and some encouragement, which I think we could all use at this point in time, about how to think about things today and what, what to consider for the future, which there’s a lot of uncertainty, but. Yeah. At some point we’ll come out of it. Hopefully this conversation is helpful to you, and if you have any suggestions or questions about any topics that we should cover in the future, please feel free to reach out on our website, the spectrum labs.com and you’ll find our contact information on there.
So here is a brief and helpful and hopefully insightful conversation with Blake Butler.
Blake, welcome. Thank you so much for joining me on the hemp startup journey. I hope that you’re doing well today.
Blake Butler: [00:01:27] I’m doing great, Jason, and thanks so much for having me. It’s real important that you’re doing something like this in a time when we can not gather publicly, but we still need to get the right information now.
Jason De Los Santos: [00:01:37] Yeah, absolutely. And so we’re talking at the beginning of April, I guess, ended up. March. I don’t even know what day it is. she’s so strange. but, yeah, I think a lot of, a lot of things have been changing on a daily basis, so I really want to dig in to some things. you are the, network extraordinaire, so you’re always talking to people, politicians, people in their hemp industry.
Nancy just wants to talk to you today and just kind of see what you’re seeing out there in North Carolina. maybe U S and then just kinda some things that we can start to think about. I’m moving forward here today with a lot of the uncertainty that we have present.
Blake Butler: [00:02:12] I’d be happy to.
Jason De Los Santos: [00:02:13] Let’s, let’s just start here. first of all, just to give a little bit of context for folks. what do you do?
I’m the executive director of the North Carolina industrial hemp association. We’re a Fabo one C6 trade organization in North Carolina. And we represent all the stakeholders in the industry, from the grower to the retailer, to the processor and all the professional services involved.
And we encourage that as an association. And I think that’s why we’ve been successful in North Carolina because we do have insurance agencies, attorneys, accountants, and others that are there to provide guidance for the grower or the farmer that’s never needed a business plan. Are needed, you know, to plan strategically financially.
So, you know, our association as much as we can, Jason tries to bring us professional acumen into what we’re doing so we can be seen as the most credible new industry out there.
Yeah. And I think professionalism is such a key word for our industry. You know, we have a lot of great people. I think on, on the, maybe not so great side.
Sometimes we’ve had folks coming in from a different kind of culture. and I think for the consumer, sometimes when there’s a lack of professionalism, it’s sort of. creates a certain stereotype, you know, a negative stereotype. And I think you and folks at your, the association bring that professionalism that we need so much to let people know that, Hey, you know, these people are serious.
You know, they’re, they’re concerned about, you know, whether it’s our health or about the integrity of the industry. So I definitely appreciate what you guys are doing with that. Our professionalism side of things. I think it’s, it’s a word that we throw around a lot, but it’s really important.
Blake Butler: [00:03:48] Well, and it’s how you approach each challenge with a new industry.
And, and I’ll give you an example. Last year in North Carolina, we spent a lot of time and a lot of our resources defending our industry from a ban on smokable hemp. Hmm. And wants the legislature and lawmakers tagged us with that term smokable hemp. It gave folks a different perception of what our industry was doing as we know it.
It’s a different delivery method of CBD. Yeah. We know folks get relief from it, but there was a different pincher picture that was painted and we had to go down there and play defense. As some we’re trying to define our industry and in our case, we want to change that moving forward. And now that we do have a pause because of the coronavirus, it gives us a little bit more, Tom, is how would we approach this?
In other words, I don’t even want to use the term smokable him in any of our legislation or any of our activities going forward. What I would like to pivot to Jason is craft commodity flour, because that’s truly what it is. The flower from the plant that takes different paths, whether it goes to a processor, might go to a retailer to be used in a smokable fashion, but again, as a relief method, another delivery method for CBD for that customer, and.
But approaching it with more often and knowing what we know about North Carolina, gives us an advantage as we engage again this year. The timing is unpredictable. Yeah. It’s something that a lot of people are panicking about and I’m trying to calm everybody down, but there’s really no answers of will we go back into session on April 28th.
I would say no at this point. As far as the North Carolina legislature, will we go into session at all? I’m not sure. I think we have to be realistic again, that there’s other priorities that our lawmakers have to put forth right now based on what our state, our nation or world is going through and now how it affects all businesses and remember that we’re expecially vulnerable as a new business.
And that’s why we are continuously communicating with our members and trying to get a feel of where everybody is and realistically everyone is not going to be able to survive. Yeah. Nothing. That’s the case with small businesses across the board, not only in the CBD and hemp industry, and we have to be very aware, but as you mentioned before, we cannot be complacent.
Because we all got into this to do some good. We all got into this to tell an American story, to help our community to turn away from the pill and look to a plant and all that still stands. And it can become more important than ever before, after we get through this crisis.
Jason De Los Santos: [00:06:54] Yeah, absolutely. I know we’ll, we’ll get through it eventually.
Sometimes it’s difficult, you know, when you’re in the middle of it, right? Like we’re in the thick of it at this, at this moment, and, it’s challenging. But, I feel like I mentioned before, we started recording and just for myself, but my mind is starting to lift out of the supposedly fog of. Or whatever you want to call it, whether it’s like, you know, depression or just the, the, the huge amount of anxiety.
the, the uncertainty, right? Just not knowing. I think it’s one thing if somebody says like, Hey, you know, you’re going to be shut down. as terrible as that might be, that that’s one thing that you sort of know, but I think when we just don’t know, nobody’s fault, but. We just don’t have a clear picture of what can happen.
You know, we have numbers and data and estimates of what it could look like for, for the health of our nation. but then of course that, then we’re talking about the health of our businesses, the businesses that you work with in the hemp industry. So it’s just mired in so much uncertainty. so you talked about the, the feel of.
Members and, and their mindset. you’ve talked to a lot of folks in the past few days. What are you hearing from folks like, are folks feeling positive? Are they scared for their businesses? What are you hearing on the street?
Blake Butler: [00:08:06] I think it just depends how long they’ve been engaged in the industry. We have a lot of members that will be planting for their third year.
And so they’ve learned some hard knock lessons the first and second year, but for the second year plan or that might not have seen success with their harvest last year. you know, we’ve been very honest with them. You have a three year license, and if you don’t feel good about planning, you don’t have to plan.
I’ll quote my friend chase Warner from triangle hemp. He said, I’ll tell people to plant a garden and hone your skills. Once again, you can still have a few hemp plants. Your license still exist, but if you don’t feel like you need to get out there again and take that risk, then don’t do it. You do not have to play them because it does start with the grower.
Jason. We need the grower. The farmer. To once again feel like there’s a supply chain that exist after all this. Yeah, and I think you hit on a real valuable point earlier about folks being nervous, but I will tell you that I have use this once again to remind people that we love exchanging that poster on social media about the 10,000 uses of him.
But in reality, we hadn’t even touched. 9,999 up. Sure, sure. It’s really true. And you know, knowing that we talk a lot about growing for fiber and creating a new economic system within our country and not relying on China and the fiber that they grow for him. Clothing. And other byproducts. This might be our opportunity to see the industry as a true agricultural commodity and start to diversify.
Now know a lot of growers and farmers aren’t gonna like to hear that because the cost per acre is going to be a lot lower. We’re going to have to really go out there and convince the Patagonia’s and the North faces, and the Loomis is internationals to buy from our growers. So it’s going to take a lot of
Cooperation and coordination, and quite honestly, it’s a three to five to seven year plan and it’s not a get rich quick scheme, but as we know, everyone cannot grow for floral purposes, for CVD, and after this, the market, in my opinion, is going to be even more challenging and trickier. To find sustainability.
Jason De Los Santos: [00:10:46] I think before this, the whole Corona virus thing started happening. There was a lot of talk, and at least regionally in this area in North Carolina, folks talking about, growing hemp for fiber, or, for specific consumer strains. Maybe CBN or CBG. in regards to, growing for fiber, one of the things that I heard often is that folks are saying, well, I can’t grow it yet because the infrastructure is not there, so I can grow it, but there’s nobody there to purchase it.
is that true or what are you hearing know? Are there people that can take that fiber that turn it into whatever furniture or, I’ve heard of
Blake Butler: [00:11:25] it’s very true. Jason. We do not have the infrastructure in place yet. we do have a small operation in Siler city, North Carolina, a decorticator, but that’s the machine that can really break down that fiber.
One step of it before it’s made into a product. There was a large facility in Kentucky, and unfortunately there are no longer around, and they even discussed. Building a plan out in Lumberton last year, but the market conditions change. But here is what we do have in North Carolina. We have NC state university, and part of the strength of that university system is textiles and engineering.
And I think you and I discussed when we met that the next generation is really going to innovate on this space. I mean, I’m 51 I’m still fairly young, but I’ve been in the six or seven years, and I’d love to see the engagement and the partnership with an NC state first so we can truly figure out what path to take with fiber.
And then I think those companies could come along knowing that we’re trying to figure out a dizzy, not just a. Quick one one off kind of deal, like, Hey, let’s go a little bit of fiber and make this, let’s try to truly figure it out. And could it change North Carolina? Could we once again engage all the universities and the community colleges in the counties that need it so much and train folks for a new skill?
That can process fiber and have a co op of 80 to a hundred farmers growing him for fiber 50 a hundred miles around. It sounds exactly like the Burley tobacco co-op days because that is the model the farmer growers should just be concentrating on that harvest and then getting back to that next planting.
And be able to bring himself together, co-op, if you will, with other farmers and after it is dry or you know, just to be passed on. And remember, when you grow hemp for fiber, a big difference Jason, is that can sit in the barn. It can sit in the barn for nine months, for 12 months. It’s not being consumed.
It doesn’t have the restrictions that we all need to place on our growers if they’re grown for floral, because they got to have it in a climate controlled situation to avoid mold and mycotoxins. Are our processors not going to take it unless they’re going to have to clean it. And as you know, it’s, it’s quite a process.
So you would just rather folks know what they’re doing and be able to pass it on after that seven to 10. you know, dangerous. Period to the processor, but on the fiber side, we can get ahead of the game, and once we formed some partnerships and say, NC state says, you know, this sounds good, maybe we can do something together in the fall.
Then just I think those con, that kind of news going out there might pique the interest of some of those companies instead of us just going out there saying, Hey. Hey, our farmers are grow for fiber and create a new clothing line. I think we need some university partnerships to do it right. Especially those like NC state that have a historical kind of portfolio of how they worked with textiles and continued to work in an arena.
Jason De Los Santos: [00:14:51] Okay. Yeah. I feel like, this could be a good time for innovation and just thinking about, you know, what am I, or what is my company going to be focusing on after we get out of this pandemic? And so textiles, I mean, that could be a great idea. I like the, you know, the idea of aligning. With university. Do you know anybody there or a certain department that, you know, everybody that listens to this, you know, if we’re, if we’re in North Carolina, that should reach out to a certain person or department.
Do you have any ideas that we, that might prompt some action
Blake Butler: [00:15:22] there? Well, I think, I will, in a few months, I have talked to Dean Linton from the plant science school and others about how we could work together. but I think moving forward. Once we figured out how to reapproach our industry in North Carolina, if that’s part of the conversation, even our legislators, in my opinion, will be very encouraged knowing we’re trying to diversify across the state.
CBD is tricky. And, you know, I use that term lightly. And then what you go through with law enforcement and regulations. And I was thinking earlier when you were talking. Even in a time like this, if we had just a simple statement from the FDA, like vitamin E has as a supplement, it’s on the side of every bottle.
This can help your immune system and keeps you with a healthy heart. Just something like that, you know, would help give some guidance and we wouldn’t lose credibility. And what we build up. And I think that’s real important in this. Paul’s too, is our industry worked really hard in the midst of not having any approvals from the FDA that CBD was safe.
But what we see across the board is CBD is helping folks. Now, granted, we can’t go out there and make any claims, but I definitely have not read an accurate story that CBD has hurt anybody, right? And I believe like so many of us. That the cannabis plant is here for a reason, and I think when so much else fails, we returned back to our roots, no pun intended, and look for those plants that we know have multi uses and there is no plant out there that you can build with, that you can heal with.
Get relief from that you can feed. A population with by exploring more hemp seed and grain opportunities. There is not another plant out there period. And maybe this will be a wake up call in a way that we can play more often. Let people see our industry differently as we really are trying to help now.
We’re trying to do everything we can with this plant to help our communities and bring back the places, the small towns that need it the most. So I think if we all stay encouraged and realistic that we’re going to lose. Some members were going to lose. Some folks, we’re going to lose some growers. It’s just going to be the nature of the beast with the changing market.
But at the same time, if we stay encouraged and look for new partnerships and opportunities, I think North Carolina. We’ll be one of those top hemp States. I think agriculture is in our DNA.
Jason De Los Santos: [00:18:22] Yeah. you’re a tree advocate. Like I, every time I’ve talked to you, I just feel it from you. So thank you for, for that, for being a voice.
besides, Possible, partnerships between universities and, you know, have cultivators. Any other, maybe just ask it differently. what are the things should we be thinking about in this time? Right. And you know, I’ve heard of certain, hemp companies that are doing well. I’ve heard of other companies that maybe they’re not doing so well.
So now in a time of. Maybe pause where we can consider what we can do after this, this turmoil. What are the things do you think we should be thinking about whether partnerships, whether new ideas, maybe pivots, absolutely getting out of the business? Maybe, I don’t know, but just from you, you have a lot of experience in this field.
What are some ideas that you have there?
Blake Butler: [00:19:11] That’s a great question. I think first we need to support our retailers. No, they are mostly shut down in some cities. They are still open here in Asheville, North Carolina where I am. Some of them are still open under the health and nutrition category, but as I talked to him, they do not have the walk in traffic.
Some of them are doing curbside pickup, but most of them are offering gift cards and like we’ve shifted our website, that even has your company spectrum labs on there. Jason are great. Lab here, processor outside of Asheville. you know, we were trying to do everything we can because everyone is moving into this virtual world.
So if you do believe in our products and go out there and support our retailers on their online storage, that, that’s so important right now. And I’ll tell you why is because what I mentioned earlier. You know, sure. We have plenty of growers in the indoor complex and the greenhouse complex that are harvesting two or three times a year.
But then we have that outdoor grower that’s trying to figure out, should I plan again and strength from the retailers that the products are still moving and there’s still opportunity. There would be a good sign. So if you can please support our retailers. And the second thing I would say is this, you know, I think we should all use this opportunity.
It’s going to sound kind of corny to get healthier and just check ourselves. Yup. And I’m doing it. I’m trying to figure out how I can be more effective. How I can be better for not only what I do for our members, but just as our community and our town cities awaken again. I mean, we’ve got to have that kind of leadership in those people that go out there and say, it’s okay.
Yeah, you can come out of your house. We can gather Gambian. It’s okay. And I don’t mean that to sound corny, but I do mean it. Yeah. Because I mean, what I miss the most right now is being able. To have those events. Last year at this time when we were getting ready to stage an event called plant, we brought all our first time planners for our membership to Lillington and taught them how to plan indoor and outdoors and to think we’re not going to be able to do that.
Jason De Los Santos: [00:21:34] Yeah.
Blake Butler: [00:21:35] So, you know, again, support our retailers because they’re in a real pivotal position to decide how long can I stay a lot in. That really comes down to, can I still move the products I need to move online because I’m not allowed to have my storefront open right now. So I think that’d be one thing.
And the second thing, again, to be more of a. Just a leader in our thinking like our industry is to go out there and take risks. And just, you know, have more of an assertive voice after all of this is over. And I just think, you know, checking ourselves and be sure we’re all doing that for those folks around us.
Jason De Los Santos: [00:22:16] Yup. Totally agree. so it’s probably a good time to start wrapping up. is there any other message that you want to leave people with, or if not, what’s the best way for folks to get ahold of you if they want to reach out.
Blake Butler: [00:22:28] Absolutely. If you’d like to learn more about our association, you can go to NC I N D dot org and when Jason shares, this was with me, I’ll include it, in the text and we’d love to have you join us.
Like I said, things are a little bit different. In the next two to three months, and that we’re going to be doing more webinars. We’re trying to put together a planning webinar to take care of what I mentioned earlier, since we can’t gather, as well as podcasts like this and any information that we can put out there, our association is and support in it.
Of it and we’ll do everything that we can and, you know, more than anything, just know that there is another side of this and it’s all up to us of the attitude that we have when we come out of this. And, you know, our industry and every industry, every small business needs support after it’s all over.
But we just got support each other. So I appreciate you doing this Jason. Cause this gives me opportunity, to share information with a lot of folks.
Jason De Los Santos: [00:23:31] Yeah. Thank you very much. Absolutely. Thank you. Thanks for being a good leader and keeping the positivity going. We can all use that right now, so don’t stop.
I keep seeing. Awesome. Blake, I look forward to chatting with you next time.
Blake Butler: [00:23:44] Thanks so much
Jason De Los Santos: [00:23:47] guys. And before you go, this is Jason from spectrum labs. Please be sure to visit us on the web as the spectrum labs.com for any show notes and links. Discussed in the podcast. Also remember to click the subscribe button wherever you may be listening from, so you get notified when our next episode comes out and tune in next show and have a fantastic day.
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