CLAIRE KOWALICK, TIMES RECORD NEWS
The world is watching Wichita Falls yet again for its innovative projects – this time in the realm of industrial hemp.
Wichita County Commissioners approved an agreement Tuesday with Panda Biotech for a hemp-processing facility located in the area.
The contract with the county will allow a 70-percent tax abatement to the company which will decrease over the years. The company will still pay school taxes for Burkburnett ISD.
The abatement is on the base value of the land and building, which formerly housed a Delphi facility.
The total property value is around $5.8 million.
Panda Biotech recently signed the purchase agreement for the property and will be completing more than $56 million in renovation to the facility to turn it into one of the first hemp-processing facilities in the United States.
Panda Biotech President Dixie Carter said after the announcement that Wichita Falls was chosen as the new home of their processing facility, she received calls and messages from industries all over the world who were interested in this burgeoning business.
For more than 80 years, industrial hemp was lumped in the same category as marijuana and was therefore illegal to produce in the United States.
Industrial hemp production and processing was legalized in the last two years through the national Farm Bill and the state of Texas.
Industrial hemp is grown for the stalk and is different than hemp grown for CBD-oil products or marijuana.
Industrial hemp is dry and woody and grows up to 10-15 feet tall, similar to bamboo.
The facility will have two 10-ton per hour hemp gins. One gin is on schedule and will be delivered toward the end of the year. The other will be produced after the first gin arrives. The facility is set to begin production by the beginning of 2022.
To jump start production, Carter said Panda Biotech gave away 60 tons of free hemp seed to potential producers all over Texas.
Together with Texas A&M AgriLife, there will be multiple studies to determine the best weather, soil, water and regional conditions for growing the crop.
Carter said hemp is a product like no other which is environmentally friendly and sustainable from seed, to product, to biodegradation.
The plant in Wichita County will take hemp stalks and decordize them creating a straw-like product called herd. The herd has multiple purposes on its own or can be taken a step further through cottonization.
The hemp would be mixed with a ratio of Pima cotton to create a strong, durable product that can be used for apparel, rope or other purposes.
Carter said for the past 18 months, the company has sent representatives all over the world to confer with farmers, textile manufacturers and other industry leaders to get a feel for the market of industrial hemp.
She said they have amassed the best experts in a variety of backgrounds to make sure this process exceeds everyone’s expectations. The only thing missing was a hemp gin location.
Panda board chairman Bob Carter said there were five words that let them know Wichita Falls was the best choice for the facility.
Carter said when the novel project was presented, Wichita County and city leaders were on board right away and as issues came up, they were “going to figure it out.”
During talks with county leaders and the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce, Carter said he appreciated the local area’s can-do attitude and enthusiasm for the project.
Commissioner Barry Mahler is a strong supporter of the project and said it could be a boom for ailing agriculture producers in the county. There is not one crop grown in the area currently that will turn a profit, he said.
Hemp has a possible yield of two harvests a year, can be grown with 70 percent less water than other crops, requires little pesticide and no herbicide.
Vice President of Operations Blake Carter said industrial hemp can yield three to four tons per acre with a profit of about $150-$200 per acre.
Price per ton of the hemp would be determined by the quality of the product.
Currently, China produces 95 percent of the cottonized hemp in the world.
Dixie Carter said the facility itself will create at least 50 jobs and has the potential for creating more than 700 indirect jobs through producers, transportation and related industries.
PANDA BIOTECH ANNOUNCEMENT