First Link in a Sustainable Chain: Interview with HempFlax’s Mark Reinders
By Steven Hoffman
Working with farmers and production facilities in the Netherlands, Germany and Romania, early mover and European leader HempFlax is stretching the boundaries of industrial hemp innovation with sustainable raw materials and semi-finished products for multiple applications
When HempFlax was founded by trailblazer Ben Dronkers in 1994, the hemp industry was still in its proto-infancy. From having to develop its own custom farm machinery to innovating products that make use of every part of the industrial hemp plant, the Netherlands-based company literally had to invent everything, from the ground up.
Today, HempFlax has grown into a world leader in hemp production. Working with a group of 70 veteran farmers in the Netherlands, Germany and Romania, the company expects to harvest 2,200 hectares (approximately 5,400 acres) of high grade industrial hemp in 2020.
In addition, with production facilities in its home town of Oude Pekela, Netherlands, and in Romania, HempFlax manufactures a variety of hemp-derived durable raw materials and semi-finished products including fiber and building materials for construction, animal bedding, car parts, furniture and horticulture applications; nutraceuticals, including CBD and food from hempseed; plant genetics, seed and more.
In May, HempFlax announced that it had launched a new building supply division through its acquisition of the assets of Thermo-Natur, a German company that makes insulation from natural fibers.
Let’s Talk Hemp recently “Zoomed” in with HempFlax CEO Mark Reinders to learn more about HempFlax’s “total crop approach,” and the company’s strong belief that, as Reinders noted, “Quality begins in the field and not in the factory.”
What Is your background with HempFlax?
I grew up in a farm family and studied agri-business and crop production in college and have a Master’s degree in management. My father was one of the first farmers to grow hemp in the Netherlands in 1995, and my family still farms hemp. I joined HempFlax in 2001 as an intern. In 2008, I was appointed CEO of the HempFlax Group.
How do you work with farmers?
We work with about 70 large and small scale farmers, including farmers who are specialized in potatoes; they use hemp as a rotation crop. Our farmers also include flax and winter wheat in their rotations. The hemp crop is less labor intensive for them because we handle the harvest. Hemp doesn’t have many natural enemies and with its high rate of growth, it has weed suppressant capabilities. As such, we do not apply chemical crop protection during the crop. By introducing hemp in your crop rotations, you can improve the sustainability of your farm because you now have one less crop on which you have to apply chemicals. In addition, we do not use synthetic fertilizer on our farms in the Netherlands and Germany – we only apply animal manure, as there is so much available in these countries. In Romania, we are partly using manure, but there’s not enough available; however, we are increasing our use of natural fertilizers there year over year. In addition, we put the bio-waste from our hemp manufacturing back into the field to improve the soil. Also, we are experimenting with 120 certified organic acres in Romania, as there is big demand for certified organic hempseed and hemp food.
Why do you conduct the harvest?
While we do not own all the fields, we contract with our farmers to conduct the harvest. For hemp, you need specialized equipment that is often too expensive for one farmer. We can provide that. HempFlax developed in cooperation with John Deere a specialized Double Cut Combine – the upper header takes the flowers and the lower header cuts the stalk, which has improved harvesting efficiency by allowing for one pass. The reason we handle the harvest ourselves is that we can determine the quality in the field. We monitor the retting process – where we leave the stalks in the field for two to three weeks to naturally loosen the fiber from the core. This retting process is so important that we do it ourselves, and then we transport it to the factory for the decortication process.
How have you diversified your business?
Our business model is based on three revenue streams being separated in the field: seeds, stalks, and leaves and flower for CBD. We separate the higher quality hempseed for human consumption and the lower quality seed for animal feed. The seeds for oil, we breed ourselves. After retting and drying, the stalks are transported to our factories in Holland and Romania for decortication. In addition, now we own a third factory in Germany to manufacture insulation material. Compared to the total size of the market for insulation material, it’s definitely a niche, but it allows us to use more of the hemp crop and add value. But, as people have seen during the coronavirus crisis how quickly the Earth can regenerate itself, we have an opportunity to build a more sustainable economy than we had before, and hemp will definitely play a role in that. Additionally, animal bedding is doing very well; it sells well in the online consumer market. Hemp fiber for the automotive industry is very quiet, of course, as the auto industry has taken a hit, but we should see a recovery as the market opens up post coronavirus crisis.
What products do you offer for the nutraceutical market?
We provide CBD products in bulk and white label. We blend the extracts into different types of premixes. We blend with the hempseed oil we harvest, or if the customer prefers, we can blend with olive oil, MCT oil, sunflower oil and other oil blends. We also process into tinctures and capsules. For food manufacturers, HempFlax provides hempseed oil, protein powder and dehulled hempseed.
What message can you share with your peers in the hemp industry?
The main message of a total crop approach is it’s not easy to do because you have to be active in a lot of different markets, from animal feed and bedding to nutraceuticals and building materials, and everything in between. The amount of know-how you need to in all those markets is tremendous, but if you succeed, you will have a profitable hemp operation
that is totally vertically integrated. We have been fortunate in that our business model has been relatively unaffected by this crisis because of the diversification we have. This is the time to change your business model to a more sustainable one. We have to rebuild our economy and be smart enough not to build it on top of the old polluting economy. We can increase our standard of living by using alternative naturally derived materials that have a lower footprint on the world; why use fiberglass when we can use hemp insulation? My wish for industry colleagues also is to stay focused and stay healthy, and we will survive this crisis.
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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 email@example.com.