By Steven Hoffman
In its 110 years of history, the company Beak & Skiff has been nothing if not adaptable. That’s how you survive 110 years in the food and agriculture business.
Today, the fifth generation, vertically integrated apple orchard business located in the heart of New York State is expanding. Named by USA Today as America’s Best Apple Orchard in 2015 and 2020 to establishing itself as a market leader in hard cider beverages, the company branched out this past year to launch a new brand, Beak & Skiff Research, in the hemp and CBD category.
Sensing the opportunity in hemp, Eddie Brennan, President of Beak & Skiff, along with other fifth generation family members, applied for and received a hemp growers license and set aside 20 of the company’s 1,000 acres to grow hemp. The business also invested in a hemp extraction processing facility that just this year became certified organic.
And because of its role as a hard cider and apple-based spirits manufacturer, the company is able to manufacture its own certified organic ethanol from distilled cider sourced from the farm for use in its hemp extraction facility, Brennan said. (In related news, like many regional distilleries across the country, the company pivoted quickly early in 2020 to manufacture hand sanitizer for first responders during the coronavirus crisis.)
As a family business growing two dozen varieties of apples for the fresh and processed markets, and also distilling hard ciders and spirits under its 1911 Established brand, industrial hemp provides another crop that allows the company to diversify its business model and ensure the sustainability of its land for the next five generations and more, Brennan shared.
With the Beak & Skiff Research hemp products division, in addition to the tinctures and chewable dietary supplements it currently offers, the company plans to launch topicals and hemp-derived CBD-infused food and beverage products.
“We specialize in beverage production and have a large canning facility. We plan to do CBD-infused seltzers, coffees and other beverage products, and we also have topicals including salves and balms in development,” Brennan said. The company plans to have its tinctures certified organic in 2021, he added.
Beak & Skiff was founded in 1911 when George Skiff, an onion farmer near Syracuse, NY, met dairy farmer Andrew Beak and they both decided it would be “fruitful” to join forces and enter the emerging apple business. At the time, New York State was growing as a leading producer in the apple industry; today, the Empire State is the second largest apple producing state in the U.S., behind Washington State.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Beak & Skiff grew by selling apples to local and regional grocery stores. The company survived severe drought during the Great Depression, early freezes and late frosts, economic downtowns and many other challenges over a century to become one of the largest and highest profile apple operations in New York. Today, more than 25 family descendants help run the orchard and associated enterprises.
“Our company is about change, innovation, diversification and trying to find other revenue streams for our farming operation. Then we try to vertically integrate that into finished products,” Brennan explained.
A Bright But Challenging Future in Hemp
“We feel that the long-term future of hemp is bright. It’s challenging right now, but we see a pathway to profitability and we want to continue to add value to our farming operations,” he said.
“I think people in the industry will have to continue to learn how to differentiate themselves and make unique products beyond just doing oils and isolates. Tinctures are foreign to a lot of people but coffee, cider and other beverages are more familiar. We need to be patient and hope and advocate that the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) makes a ruling to allow hemp-derived CBD in food and beverage products,” Brennan added.
In addition to processing its own hemp, Beak & Skiff Research also provides processing services for other hemp farmers in the region. “We will process their hemp biomass and charge by the pound, known as toll processing,” Brennan said. “Given that the wholesale price for hemp has gone down dramatically and there’s an oversupply of biomass on the market, it’s making it less profitable for the farmer. The cost of genetics is still fairly expensive,” he added, “so the cost per acre to grow hemp is pretty high.”
With the economic challenges facing the hemp industry this past year, Brennan noted that Beak & Skiff’s primary businesses have allowed it to “weather the storm,” and continue to invest in expanding its hemp-derived consumer product offerings. “It can be expensive to build capacity; we’re fortunate in being able to leverage a 110-year-old legacy to help get a foothold in the hemp business,” Brennan said.
Currently, Beak & Skiff Research hemp-derived CBD products, including tinctures and chewable supplements, are available on the company’s website.
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Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic, sustainable and hemp/CBD products businesses. Compass Natural serves in PR and programming for NoCo Hemp Expo and Southern Hemp Expo, and Hoffman serves as Editor of the weekly Let’s Talk Hemp Newsletter, published by We are for Better Alternatives. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.