REXBURG – An industrial plant that processes locally-grown hemp recently opened in Thornton.
Whitefield Global Holdings opened last fall at 4861 South Highway 191. It began installing equipment about eight months ago and is ready to begin production in the next several weeks.
John Read, the company’s founder and CEO, tells EastIdahoNews.com that the hemp that’s processed on-site is used to make industrial plastics and herd and cottonized fiber. The herd product is mostly animal bedding. Fiber is used to make construction materials, like tongue-and-grove flooring, interior door panels on vehicles, insulation and many other products.
A small portion of the hemp is used to make clothing and protein supplements.
Animal bedding makes up 80% of the plant’s production, Read says. It resembles wood chips, and there are multiple benefits to using it.
“You’ll typically get two to three times the lifespan out of it,” says Read. “What’s really unique about it is the absorption. It absorbs (animal waste) and releases the odor so you don’t get that stink in your barn.”
Local farmers have an agreement with Whitefield Global Holdings to produce hemp. Once it’s harvested, it’s brought to the plant in a large bale for processing. It’s broken down, separated and cleaned. The fiber is again repackaged into bale form and the herd into bags before it’s put on a truck and shipped to distributors.
It’s a four- to five-step process, and the plant has the capacity to process up to 30 tons of material daily, according to Whitefield’s Chief Innovation Officer John Lupien. Take a tour and see how it works in the video above.
Whitefield has become one of the fastest-growing companies in the hemp industry since its 2019 launch in Illinois, according to its website. About 18 months ago, Read and his team were looking for growers who wanted to get involved, and there was a lot of interest in eastern Idaho.
Triston Sponseller of Roberts is one of eight farmers who started producing hemp after it was legalized in April 2021. He was pleased with last year’s crop and is excited to return for a second year with another crop that will be harvested next week.
He harvests about 560 acres of hemp annually, making him the largest grower in the state. He likes the idea of being involved in a new ag industry for the Gem State.
“It’s something new, and it’s exciting to do something that gets me out of my typical grain-and-hay rotation,” Sponseller says. “The other part I was looking for was something to help me combat inflation. That’s one of the biggest struggles farmers are facing … and this helps me diversify and keep up.”
Sponseller says climate conditions in Idaho are ideal for growing hemp. Despite the dramatic fluctuation in temperatures this summer, he says hemp stalks are 12 feet tall in some locations.
Hemp stalks between eight and 10 feet bring about five bales an acre, which are put in a stack like hay. It’s covered with a tarp and stored for several months before it’s brought to the Thornton plant.
As far as Sponseller is concerned, hemp is a great rotation crop for farmers in the Gem State.
“A lot of guys are interested in putting it in right after their potatoes because they can use residual fertilizer. It uses minimal fertilizers, and therefore leaves fertilizers behind for the barley crop to follow before the next potato crop,” he says. “It’s cool being able to pioneer something that no one else has done in the state.”
While many of the products that are processed in Thornton will have a national benefit, the bulk of it will benefit eastern Idaho and surrounding areas.
As production begins, Read says the plant will need between 20 to 25 employees to keep it running. He’s thrilled to bring new jobs to the area, and he sees a lot of potential for future growth.
“A lot of the things we do here still have to be brought in from other states. We think we can start to create a larger ecosystem here from the grain and seed production and get more companies like Hempitecture (an insulation supplier in Jerome, one of Whitefield’s major clients) established,” says Read. “We can really grow and bring a lot of new opportunities to the region in the next three to five years.”