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Building America’s biggest hemp empire



On the southern tip of the US in South Florida, a former vegetable farm that grew beans, tomatoes and squash has a new destiny: becoming the US’s largest hemp operation…

Hal Lucas, a business lawyer by trade, discussed his vision with the farm’s owners, Salvatore Finocchiaro and Leo Talarico. He’d already represented them as their business attorney. 

Lucas told them he wanted to turn the land into a CBD-rich hemp farm. The location was perfect: rich soil due to its proximity to the Everglades, seasonal rainfall that means crops can be watered naturally, and a climate that would allow multiple growth seasons, thanks to its proximity to the equator. 

“They were enthusiastic from the outset,” Lucas says. 

And so South Tip was born. Lucas formed a multi-disciplinary team, including his business partner Keith St. Germain, whose wholesale nursery was granted the 13th medical marijuana license in the state of Florida in 2017. In fact, it was St Germain’s idea to start the farm. 

The company has also partnered with the University of Florida, with researchers doing experimental hemp cultivation projects, through which Lucas hopes to certify South Tip’s hemp genetics. 

The South Tip team also includes Randy Cole and Charles Steinfield, who are ‘cannabis experts,’ Lucas says. 

“They have extensive experience in the industry. Randy is one of the most sought-after cannabis experts in Florida and Charles is his right-hand man. We’ve worked hard to bring them to our team.

“We spent 2019 putting a team together, and 2020 has been about executing it.” 

The process of executing the plan has entailed purchasing real estate, more land and equipment, including tractors, and building greenhouses. They’ve also been buying seeds, and talking to business partners to plan how they will bring their products to market. 

In addition to the farmland, South Tip has approximately 58,000 square feet of building space and plans to build a processing plant. It is currently retrofitting an existing structure to turn into an indoor growth facility. 

On their 70 acres of farmland, South Tip is also planning to build a welcome centre, where customers can try and buy hemp and CBD products and merchandise and go on tours of the hemp farm.

“We’re embracing the agriculture community, but we want to be public-facing, too,” says Lucas, who also sits on the hemp advisory committee for the Florida department of agriculture, who regulates South Tip.

But if the company wants to sell its own hemp-derived products to consumers, as opposed to selling biomass business-to-business, it will need to get an additional licence first, specifically a food safety permit.

But Lucas would also like to eventually sell cultivars to farmers; farmers sell each other seeds that have germinated into small plants, because not all seeds germinate.

“We want to have good relationships with farmers. When we certify genetics, we want to provide cultivars to other farmers for them to grow.

“We want to provide them with high quality cultivars to grow rich hemp plants.”

The ultimate goal, Lucas says, is to build a CBD company that grows and processes products, as well as manufacturing the final CDB product and selling them. 

“We certainly have the capacity to grow this farm to more than 1,500 acres,” Lucas says. 

But, Lucas says, expansion will wait until the time is right, and the market is ready.

“I’m bullish, but I have to have patient for the science on CBD to continue to come out. I also have to be aggressive as this is a frontier industry. This is a business, not a hobby, but I love what we’re doing.”


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