Steve Herron is a visionary and part of this energetic Routt County entrepreneur’s plan may have a noticeable impact on the city and county of Delta.
By next autumn and just in time to process the raw hemp harvest from county-wide farms, Herron hopes to establish a state-of-the-art hemp extraction facility in Delta. Herron serves as chief executive officer of Natural Path Botanicals with offices in Steamboat Springs and a hemp processing operation in nearby Hayden. His plans to open a complementary facility in Delta are an extension of Natural Path’s ongoing working relationship with Delta County hemp farmers.
Several tangible elements of his vision are already in place on both ends of the transaction. On the Delta side, he’s leased an 11,000 square foot commercial building in the 600 block of Highway 92. On the Hayden end, a portion of his parking lot is filled with specialized equipment awaiting delivery to Delta. And throughout the start-up process, he’s experienced remarkable cooperation from Delta County planners. Working with local planners, he found the county’s regulations to be thorough and fair and he couldn’t be more pleased with the process.
So far all the pieces are falling in place and Herron can barely contain his excitement.
“If we can get all of our equipment moved down and the lab set up the way we want, we expect to be hiring around 20 people at the Delta facility. Our pay range runs from $17-26 an hour with good benefits. We know that we could hire at $12-15 anhour, but my mother always told me that just because you can doesn’t mean you should, so
we won’t. We’re going to stick to our (employee-friendly) model which means we will offer good high paying jobs in order to get the best people.”
Although Herron is optimistic about establishing the Delta facility, he immediately cautions that it’s much too soon for people to start applying to work there.
“We always want to be mindful to never promise,” he said. “There could still be surprises in this new industry. What could happen over the course of the winter is the price of CBD could go down.”
Such a downturn in the market could delay or change Natural Path’s expansion plans. And there might be unanticipated political or regulatory bumps. Everything in the hemp industry is new and that leads to uncertainty. Much of what’s happening in the Colorado and national hemp industry has been motivated by the passage of the 2018 Congressional Farm Bill which made the cultivation of hemp a legal activity.
“As an industry and as a company we work with a lobbying organization to improve and clarify the 2018 Farm Bill” Herron said. “Meanwhile, I don’t want to get people too excited (about the possibility of Delta County jobs) because we’ve still got work to do. We’ve got to get the right design in place (for the Delta facility) and we’ll take our time because right now there’s no rush. We can put together a great lab if we take our time to get it right.”
If all goes well, the new Delta facility will be up and running in time to process the county’s 2020 hemp harvest. Working in Delta County is a homecoming of sorts for Herron who is no stranger to the area. He’s been in and out of the region for over 20 years having done much of his graduate work here as a field geologist and also working at the West Elk Mine. And now he’s excited about the opportunity to cooperate with Delta County families and farms.
The new Delta facility will allow Natural Path Botanicals to work more efficiently with Delta County farmers by processing their harvest of hemp biomass closer to home. Biomass is a dried mixture of hemp flowers and other plant material harvested by each farm. The proposed Delta facility will use a cold alcohol extraction process to convert the biomass to a “crude oil” which will then be shipped in barrels to the Hayden facility for further refinement into medicinal products. Having an extraction facility in Delta means that county farmers who work with Natural Path Botanicals will no longer be required to truck their biomass the 200-mile distance from Delta and Hayden. Eliminating that transportation cost will benefit local farmers.
Hemp plants yield cannabidiol, or CBD. CBD is believed to have medicinal applications and it differs from industrial hemp which is grown for its fiber and marijuana which has psychoactive properties. Using CBD products such as honey sticks, salves and tinctures may make you feel better, but they won’t get you high. Marijuana contains high concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD contains no more than three-tenths of one percent (0.3 %) THC.
Fully aware that local job seekers will be interested in potential employment, Herron will be making future announcements regarding hiring and that timing will depend on how quickly the proposed Delta facility takes shape. In the meantime, he’s committed to continuing the relationships he’s already established with Delta County hemp farmers. Whatever happens, Natural Path Botanicals is committed to using local hemp.
“We could have gone to Pueblo, we could have gone to the Front Range,” Herron said, but he was sold on Delta County because of the area’s quality workers, great agricultural history, and commitment to organic farming. As evidence of his commitment to the county, 100% of the biomass which Natural Path is currently processing came from Delta County farms.
“It’s important for us,” he said, “to support family farms and sustainable farming.”