Hemp was the main subject of the first Binghamton University Forum lecture of this year, featuring Geoffrey Whaling, co-founder and president of Hemp Development Group, LLC, who is building his first Hemp Industrial Park (HIP) in Broome County.
Industrial hemp production is an increasing agricultural industry in the United States, after the passing of the 2018 U.S. farm bill that removed hemp from the list of Schedule I controlled substances. It has allowed for a resurgence in hemp production in the United States after about 80 years of it being illegal. Hemp is a cannabis plant with less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and can be used in the production of cars, building materials, medications, fabrics, landscaping and more — including cannabidiol (CBD) oil, which is commonly used to treat health issues, such as anxiety.
Whaling, a Canadian native and dual citizen, first heard about hemp being used for medicinal purposes in 2013 from a news story about parents in Colorado administering CBD oil as the only aid available for their children’s epileptic seizures.
“Unlike most people, I had the wherewithal to pick up and go meet with those families and listen to their stories,” Whaling said. “They talked about how they were extracting this essential oil from marijuana, but marijuana that had no THC. So as I flew back to Pennsylvania from Colorado, where all these families were, I was doing more research and thought, ‘I can’t believe they don’t grow hemp in America.’ So I took it over. I tried to find out who was out there advocating for it and what research was being done.”
That research and work led to Whaling founding Hemp Development Group, LLC. He said he hopes the new production plant will increase the growth of the hemp industry and benefit economic growth in the Broome County area.
Over six months ago, Stacey Duncan, executive director of Broome County Industrial Development Agency, received an inquiry about the potential to develop a 300-acre agricultural business park in Broome County. Following that lead, Duncan met with Canopy Growth Corporation, the company that oversees Hemp Development Group, LLC.
“We discussed his vision for HIP, so for us, it was very exciting, because we knew about all the work at the state and federal level to begin to reintroduce hemp as a commodity crop,” Duncan said. “So we quickly galvanized our team and started looking at the available space that could accommodate what his vision was. Over the period of six months, we reviewed different properties and vacant lands, and they ended up on the Pine Camp location.”
The vision for Whaling, according to his lecture, is to see hemp return to the American landscape as a commodity crop similar to corn or soybeans. But before that can happen, he said more research needs to be done.
“To move forward, we have to research it, and universities are going to be really key in advancing that,” Whaling said. “As part of our hemp site here, we will create a Center of Excellence, which is going to be a research hub. So not only local universities, but, in a collaborative fashion with agricultural schools and technology schools, universities across the country will use our center here to advance the hemp crop.”
Robin Alpaugh, ‘96, director of operations for the New York State Senate 52nd Senate District, is a member of the BU Forum and attends the events as a way to learn more about the community. He has learned about the hemp industry and has heard Whaling speak before, but he said there is always new information about the industry.
“It’s really an incredible product, and I think forums like this are such a good way to get that information out to the community,” Alpaugh said. “It seems like the sky is really the limit on what it can be used for, not just medicinal.”
Whaling is looking to the future of the hemp industry in America, hoping that the new HIP in Broome County will be the research facility it needs to expand the industry to its full potential.
“It is a trillion-dollar opportunity if we get it right,” Whaling said. “Five years from now, we’re going to start to be building that industry, we will have done all the research. Ten years from now, we will be well on our way to a multibillion-dollar national industry, and 20 years from now, I’ll be long gone, and people will be saying, ‘what was the big deal?’”
The next BU Forum event will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 22 at 2 p.m. at the Binghamton Holiday Inn hotel, where speaker Ed Stack, chair and CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods and a Binghamton High School alum, will share his personal story of building a successful business with community consciousness.