For Jennifer Pfuhl, personal relationships have had the biggest impact on her transition into the hemp industry. It’s easy to see that the connections she’s made along the way have been a catalyst for her success. As the President of Blue Sky Processing, a hemp extraction company located in Beaufort, South Carolina, she values the importance of including her whole community in the evolving world of hemp production.
Jennifer entered the hemp industry through her primary business, Maptech Packaging, a food packaging and equipment manufacturing business. Her exposure to hemp extraction came via her coworker, a controls engineer, and his son, an organic chemist who had founded an analytical testing lab and extraction consulting business. In 2017, the pair brought her their idea for a hemp extraction system. She’d had years of experience in automated controls for gas, temperature, time, pressure, and pneumatics—precisely what they needed to successfully extract oils from hemp. This new venture grew the business into an emerging field using automation technology Jennifer and her company had already perfected through food packaging manufacturing.
The Importance of Starting Local
It wasn’t just her experience in the field that positioned her for success in the hemp industry. South Carolina has a rich and storied agricultural history. To Jennifer, the revitalization of family farms in the South is the most exciting thing about being part of the industry. “People moved away from the land who are returning to those farms to join a new business venture, to join generations before and after them,” she says.
The success of hemp farming and extraction is due to the already established infrastructure suited for the cultivation of hemp. There are systems and know-how in place to make it successful. Jennifer says the people in the community have been instrumental in adapting to this new type of industry. “It has been wonderful meeting local cultivators and visiting their farms.”
Navigating an Emerging Industry
Though the cannabis and hemp industries are booming, conducting business can involve a lot of red tape. Regulators are scrambling to catch up to make a framework around the farming, extraction, and sale of hemp products as the industry charges ahead. Jennifer has experienced this firsthand. “Banking is a challenge,” she says. After opening an account at a bank where she’d been a loyal customer for many years, her account was unexpectedly closed.
Until the recent Banking Act, federally insured banks were not allowed to process sales or provide loans for companies working in the hemp industry, leaving many with few financial options. Jennifer also sees an opportunity for technology to expand hemp production capability, such as track and trace software and accounting systems. As new testing emerges, there are often discrepancies. Better technology is needed to provide education about sampling, confidence in labs, and more consistent products.
Opportunities for Invention
The most vital components for Jennifer's success are the people who have rallied together to establish themselves in an industry rife with opportunities for innovation. “We’ve seen amazing support from local and state government. From the Economic Development Commission, senators, and council members, to the South Carolina Department of Commerce and the governor have been supportive and enthusiastic.” An increased interest in consumer goods has allowed Jennifer to speak one-on-one with members of the community. She hopes to be able to provide more visibility to the history of consumer products. Though there is sometimes a stigma about hemp, Jennifer has maintained the confidence and support of vendors and customers.
To learn more about Jennifer and Blue Sky Processing, visit www.madebybluesky.com.