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Beloit family cashes in on hemp farming

Hillary Gavan
Beloit Daily News
In this Dec. 21, 2019, photo, Adam Aberle, from left to right, Ava Aberle, Andrew Aberle, Kaylee Aberle and wife Kristina gather for a family photo on a tractor in Beloit, Wis. The family is farming hemp together.

BELOIT, Wis. (AP) - Growing hemp plants is more difficult than it looks.

"They are definitely divas. They like to be pampered and cared for a lot," said Rock Hemp Corp. President Adam Aberle.

Adam Aberle, his wife Kristina and kids Kaylee, 12, Ava, 8, Addison, 6, and Andrew, 2, have grown their first fields of it this summer.

The family launched a new business supplying the growing demand for products with CBD oil and will be opening the Hemp Hut Inc. in Janesville in early January.

"It's profitable. We haven't sold everything we grew this year, but sales are gaining speed," Aberle told the Beloit Daily News.

While the crop which became legal to grow in Wisconsin in 2018 has created somewhat of a "green rush," many people jumped in before doing all the research and have already exited the market after wrestling with the finicky plant.

In this Dec. 21, 2019, photo, Adam Aberle holds dried hemp plants which are hanging in an out building in Beloit, Wis. He started farming hemp last spring to make products with CBD oil.

However, Aberle said he enjoys farming it despite the work.

"It gives me freedom. I get to work outside and be in nature and set my own terms and hours," he said. "I envision having a long-term relationship with hemp."

Adam of Beloit, who runs an auto restoration company, became intrigued with CBD oil after he had success using it to treat long-standing back pain. After applying a topical lotion, he found it helped.

"It's hard to describe it. It's not like it kills or numbs the pain, for me personally it's an absence of pain," he said.

Although the Food and Drug Administration has only approved one prescription product with CBD, a medication used to treat two forms of rare epilepsy, growing numbers of people are using CBD and it's sold in a variety of Beloit businesses.

While some websites market CBD products for help with pain, anxiety or as dietary supplements, the FDA has cautioned that some CBD products are marketed with unproven medical claims and could have a variety of side effects.

In this Dec. 21, 2019, photo, Addison Aberle holds some finely ground hemp plant in Beloit, Wis. CBD oil will be extracted from it.

Despite CBD not being FDA approved, Aberle said his friends and family reported positive results. His wife, Kristina Aberle, said it took away her pain associated with endometriosis.

When he heard Wisconsin was going to allow the cultivation of hemp, the lifelong entrepreneur and garden grower decided to begin his research.

He learned there were companies that just farm hemp, sell it or process it for CBD oil, and some do all three.

Other farms were growing it for fiber. With an interest in natural products, the Aberles decided they would grow hemp and extract CBD oil from the plant's flowers.

The family rented 2.9 acres west of Beloit. After growing seedlings in a greenhouse, 3,600 plants went into the ground in June.

Because of the wet spring, the plants went in a bit later than hoped. While hemp plants are hardy and grow quickly, those grown for CBD oil need more care because of their delicate flowers. They need to be spaced farther apart resulting in a greater threat of weeds.

Because nothing could be sprayed on it, endless weeding kept the family busy.

"It turned into a six and seven day job for 10-12 hours a day," Aberle said. "It's a plant that has a wonderful will to survive, but it doesn't mean you will get the best yield off of it."

The family harvested the hemp in October, a bit later than expected because of rain. They cut the plants down to dry them, and hung them in racks in an outbuilding.

Aberle explained how he dries the plant for five days to three weeks, before pulling off the dried fan leaves, the five-pointed leaves associated with hemp plants.

Because there is not a lot of affordable equipment on the market yet for hemp processing, many aspects of the work are done by hand. Once the leaves are taken off the dried flowers, the trimmed flowers are sold to those who wish to smoke hemp.

In this Dec. 21, 2019, photo, Adam Aberle and wife Kristina Aberle hold CBD oil, as well as other CBD infused products they sell, in this photo in Beloit, Wis. Aberle jokes that his family hemps together.

"It's the non-alcoholic beer of the marijuana world. It won't get you high," he said.

After some of the trimmed flowers are sold, the remaining flowers are ground down for later CBD oil extraction. WIth the CBD oil, the Aberles had enough materials for their first Rock Hemp Corp. product offerings which include tinctures, salves, holy anointing oils, infused coconut oils and infused butter which can be used to make hemp edibles.

The Aberles are providing their products to retail stores as well as launching their own store.

Aberle noted his family's products not only contain CBD oil, but over 14 other cannabinoids which could have medicinal benefits. For example, the aromatic terpenes are one compound present which may create feelings of relaxation.

For Aberle, there is unlimited potential in hemp.

He hopes to one day transition to tri-cropping where he would harvest the fiber for textiles, hurd to be used in animal bedding, the grains for animal feed and the flowers for CBD oil extraction.

"That will be the future. More farmers will transition to that model as we develop more infrastructure to process the fiber," Aberle said. "It's a botical that is out there and I think the future of it could be very bright if it doesn't end up being over regulated."