Montana is on pace to be one of the top producers of hemp in the nation, and now a new business says it has hiring scores of workers in Missoula to process it into retail products.
A hemp extract company in Oregon called Socati Corp. has purchased Blue Marble Biomaterials in Missoula and plans to grow the workforce by 40 new employees this year.
Blue Marble was founded in 2007 and is located in the industrial park near the Missoula airport. Founded in 2007, Blue Marble’s 22,000-square-foot manufacturing facility has been used to make natural and sustainable specialty compounds for the global food, fragrance and cosmetics industries.
Socati Corp. of Woodburn, Oregon, makes so-called “broad spectrum” hemp extracts, which are full-plant extracts with the TCH removed below lab-detectable levels, for cannabidiol (CBD)-infused products.
Socati’s products undergo a proprietary process to eliminate the psychoactive compound THC to levels that can’t be detected in labs while leaving the CBD intact.
The partnership, leaders at both companies say, will mean Blue Marble’s food-grade facility will allow Socati to “rapidly scale its production to become one of the industry’s largest suppliers of broad-spectrum hemp extracts.”
“Blue Marble has a heritage of innovation and a commitment to manufacturing the highest quality products, including hemp-derived products, and we are proud that with Socati we will continue to meet and even exceed our high standards,” said Blue Marble CEO James Stephens. “I’m excited to join such a strong team and oversee what is poised to be the country’s leading, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility for hemp-derived products.”
Blue Marble’s entire staff of chemists, microbiologists, chemical engineers and industrial engineers will now join Socati, and the facility will be expanded so that it is capable of processing 10 tons of hemp feedstock per working day.
The 2018 federal Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp production, and there are more than 22,000 acres under hemp production in Montana according to the Montana Farmers Union. Justin Loch, membership director at the MFU, said hemp is a product in high demand.
“Last year there was 22,000 acres under production and that number is predicted to increase to over 30,000 this year,” he said. “I just had a call from a company in Kentucky. They said if they could find enough producers here to contract with they could potentially set up a mobile-type unit. There’s several companies interested.”
Loch said it remains to be seen if the prices hemp farmers in Montana get for their product is worth the investment it takes to grow a crop that thrives on irrigation.
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“Processing in Montana is the biggest holdup,” he said. “Now, with the way things are going now with several processors coming into the state, this year will kind of be the year if we see if it’s worth it or not.”
Loch wasn’t aware of Socati’s acquisition of Blue Marble before he answered that question.
“There seems to be a lot of interest,” he said after being told of the merger.
Socati has raised roughly $32 million in venture capital funding and has a staff of around 40 people of its own, before the acquisition.
“Socati’s acquisition of Blue Marble reflects our commitment to an industry with the potential to grow to $22 billion by 2022,” said Socati CEO Josh Epstein. “This acquisition positions Socati to capitalize on this meteoric growth through quality manufacturing, product development and innovation, setting the bar for product purity and consistency."
According to a 2018 Congressional Research Service report, the global market for hemp consists of more than 25,000 products in everything from paper and textiles to cooking oil.
"We’re pleased to have found such an optimal facility and talented team to enable this growth and to expand our footprint to Montana, a state that has embraced the potential of the hemp industry for consumers and businesses," Epstein said.
The testing laboratory at Blue Marble will be equipped with the “most advanced analytical capabilities to identify cannabinoids, ensure product purity and quality, and confirm that THC is below lab-detectable levels,” according to Stephens.
Hemp extract products without THC are in demand for everything from beverages to dietary supplements to cosmetics to pharmaceuticals, Stephens said.
“We see a huge demand for it,” he said. “With the benefit of being THC-free, there’s lots of people who don’t want to use hemp extract (with detectable THC) for a variety of personal reasons, so this will allow another option so consumers can have unprecedented control over CBDs. It’s really about consumer choice.”