EcoGen made headlines last year with its sale of 20 million feminized hemp seeds at the NOCO Hemp Expo in Denver. It was a sign not only of EcoGen’s ambitions in the space (the sale netted the company $11 million), but of the rising interest among American farmers eager to get into the newly legal industry.
“When you’re buying genetics, it’s really a trust buy,” Derek Du Chesne, EcoGen’s former chief growth officer, told Hemp Grower last fall. “It’s really a reputation buy. A lot of the farmers, especially this year, don’t know if you have a quality product [or if] two weeks later, [you’ll be] bankrupt. That’s really scary for farmers because it’s the most important decision they’re going to make all season.”
And here we are: Back at it in April 2020 with another hemp season ahead of us.
Now, along with its hemp seed business, EcoGen is offering a buyback program for farmers who’ve planted the company’s seed and who may end up at harvest without a buyer for all of their biomass. EcoGen is extending an opportunity to sell otherwise unclaimed biomass back to the company for extraction purposes. (EcoGen runs an 80,000-sq.-ft. extraction facility in Grand Junction, Colo.)
“This industry would not exist and cannot exist without a good supply of high quality biomass,” CEO Alexis C. Korybut says, “and the only way that's achieved is through having the right farmers dedicating their resources to producing it and taking the risk to do so.”
As farmers begin to plant their crops this year, Korybut reminds them that each business will find itself in a different position. It’s vital to know your land, know your local climate, know your own business goals that you’re expecting to hit come harvest.
“I think what's important is for [farmers] to choose the right genetics and the right farming techniques,” he says. “Handling those variables correctly, there is a very reasonable and predictable path forward and a profitable path forward for next year. The single most important thing for the farmers to do is to really choose the right genetics.”
He says he’s seen variations on a certain theme time and time again in this industry: Farmers ended up with the wrong genetics—seeds that may lead to plants more apt for fiber or plants that tend to come in above the 0.3% THC threshold. And he says that, often enough, farmers don’t realize this misstep until it’s too late.
There’s a learning curve in this industry, and it’s steep.
“We're looking to essentially help the farmers—give them some security that there is an outlet for their biomass by offering this buyback program,” Korybut says, “because we need the farmers and they need us. So, let's just lay it on the table and come out and, if it makes sense, we're going to need to buy a lot of high-quality biomass. Who better to buy from than our own customers, right?”
“This industry would not exist and cannot exist without a good supply of high quality biomass."
- EcoGen CEO Alexis C. Korybut
At EcoGen’s extraction facility, Korybut says that he’s seeing more demand for isolated CBG, CBC, CBN—the minor cannabinoids that are beginning to gain traction in the market. But still, CBD isolate is the big seller for EcoGen. Korybut says that CBD is still a relatively new phenomenon in the consumer marketplace; there’s an educational awareness process that’s still happening around that cannabinoid.
While EcoGen continues to diversify its product offerings (and, thus, its hemp genetics line), the company is also doubling down on its core isolate product. The buyback program is a sort of flywheel, then, a new source of kinetic energy for EcoGen and its customers working their hemp farms this year.