PORTLAND BUSINESS JOURNAL — Oregon CBD just gave $1 million to Oregon State University for hemp genetics research, but Seth Crawford said that’s not the best part of the story.
"The part that’s the most exciting is what type of genomic research will be done, and where that information is coming from," Crawford said in an interview.
That info, as well, is coming from the company founded and led by Seth and his brother Eric, self-described "screwed-up, backwoods, libertarian, hippie kids."
The pair got in front of the hemp boom in 2015, jumping out to a big lead in developing seeds that farmers can rely on to grow CBD-rich plants. They've plowed much of their earnings into expanded grow facilities that could have them headed toward $1 billion in sales — more on that in a bit — while developing a technologically advanced genetics operation of their own.
"We bought a long-read Pacific Biosciences Sequel II genome sequencer this past year," Crawford said. "It's actually more sophisticated than what OSU has at their facilities. So we’re providing the data for (OSU researcher) Kelly Vining to do the fundamental work, and then also using our facilities to do a lot of the controlled breeding to be able to isolate the individual genes that are of interest."
The goal, Crawford said, is to move the industry toward hemp plants that deliver CBD and other increasingly sought-after compounds, such as CBG, and to keep those genetics in the public sphere.
"We’re doing this to make sure the actual underlying genes don’t end up getting patented or held by other companies," he said.
Crawford believes hemp will be transformed in the next several years as genetic insights are put to use. But Oregon CBD has already branched out beyond CBD-focused seed varieties. Crawford said 32 or 33 farmers planted their CBG-rich seeds this year, including one company in Southern Oregon that planted 500 acres of the stuff.
All told, Oregon CBD supplied seeds for about 35,000 acres of hemp in 2019. At around 1,800 seeds per acre, that would add up to 63 million seeds. The company this year sold its CBD seeds for $1 apiece, CBG seeds for twice that.
That gives you an idea how it was able to swing a $1 million gift to OSU in just its fifth year in business.
The company, though, appears to be set to grow to remarkable new heights.
In the past year, it boosted indoor growing capacity to 90,000 square feet at its headquarters southwest of Salem. And now it's broken ground on an additional 217,000 square feet at that location.
"We’re hoping to be able to do, by early 2020, on a year-to-year basis, about 500,000 acres," Crawford said.
Oregon CBD doesn't reveal revenue information, but doing the math, at 2019's prices, that could translate into nearly a billion dollars in sales. That's rarified air that only 15 Oregon companies currently breathe, according to Business Journal research.
And this for a company owned entirely by the two brothers — internet rumors to the contrary notwithstanding.
"Last I heard was we were bought out by a Chinese company," Crawford said with a laugh.
Apparently that one started after Oregon CBD posted on its website that it wouldn't commence 2020 seed sales until the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued new, post-2018 Farm Bill regulations. While several Oregon CBD seed types will be permissible no matter what, the Crawfords want to guard against selling any that fall outside the upcoming regs.
"Some people think we sold out and are shining people on or something," Crawford said. "But no. We're still here, still the two of us and an amazing crew."
By Pete Danko – Staff Reporter, Portland Business Journal