It is getting about that time in Texas as we are weeks away (by the time this article is published) for farmers to begin harvesting their hemp crops. With that, Texas and Federal Law dictate that all hemp production be tested for THC limits as well as other things such as pesticides and harmful products. The law states that hemp can not have more than .3% THC content, or the crop has to be destroyed (refer to your state and/or local laws pertaining to THC amounts and disposal processes). I got to spend the afternoon with James W Johnson Jr. (Co-Owner) of Veterans Scientific Laboratories which has 25+ years experience in analytical analysis in cannabis, environmental, and medical fields to discuss what to look for and why testing is so important as a farmer growing.
Lee: James, why did you start Veteran Scientific Laboratories?
James: As a military veteran, I spent 8 years as a medical lab technician with the United States Air Force so medical testing is something I have experience in. There are many labs that do a great job of being transparent and accurate with testing. But there are just as many out there that decide to engage in some unethical things like alter readings in order to skirt the rules in order to make a buck. That in turn not only hurts the farmer that grows hemp, but the entire industry as a whole as that dishonesty can cost people their jobs, hemp businesses, and in some cases legal repercussions. The hemp industry is a new open frontier, especially here in Texas so setting a standard that goes above the minimum in order to bring consistency and integrity was something I wanted to be apart of in order to help farmers and the industry grow in a positive way.
Lee: You mention farmers quite a bit in our conversations. I know here in Texas many farmers in their inaugural year of planting did not do to well. Aside from issues with poor seed genetics and other regional issues, how did testing play a role in helping or hurting farmers?
James: In 2016 I assisted Oklahoma hemp farmers with obtaining their permits to grow hemp for fiber with my company JJGro. That was a huge learning experience as hemp was not allowed to be grown or produced there prior to 2016. So, I was able to see all of the good and the bad that took place during that transition. Once Texas passed legal growing and the first licenses were issued in 2020, I saw many of the same issues come up again. What was consistent is the fact that many farmers lack a true and thorough understanding of how the industry works and confusion on many of the laws set in place by the state when it comes to growing. That lack of education is what can make the difference of a farmer being successful or failing. I want to assist farmers with providing education and knowledge on what it is they are growing and to help set them up for success. The relationships that were formed with JJGro and the assistance of the Oklahoma process, Veterans Scientific Laboratories was formed.
Lee: I agree. Growing up in the farm and cattle ranching industry as a kid, farmers are the foundation that helps this country stay fed and clothed. Even today, deals in the farming industry are still done with a hand shake in many cases.
James: Exactly! That is what I love about the farm industry, a hand shake still means something. Your word still means something to the men and women that are out every single day growing commodities that keep this country moving. Unfortunately, that is something that has been lost in many other industries, even the hemp and cannabis industry due to technology. The fact that I am working with people that still believe in a hand shake and your word has value, brings a lot of satisfaction as well as it is something farmers still look for and believe in.
Lee: How is Veterans Scientific Laboratories helping farmers in the Texas hemp industry?
James: First is offering farmers FREE education when it comes to farming hemp and assisting them through the legal and state process so they can start off on the right foot. At VSL, we educate farmers and others on the difference between “industrial” hemp and “medical or consumable” hemp with our Hemp 101 seminars. Those growing processes are different and knowing the kind of hemp one intends to grow allows that farmer to set up their farm operations the correct way and depending on the type of crop (industrial in particular), set up those important contracts prior to planting a seed so they are not stuck with 100’s or 1,000’s of pounds of product rotting in a storage facility. That is just one example of how some industrial hemp farmers got burned in 2020 as they planted and farmed industrial hemp without ever having a contract in place for someone to buy it. Educating is just one way to build trust amongst the farming community which allows us to continue to help and serve the foundation of an industry growing in its infancy here in Texas and abroad.
Lee: I love that VSL has a real education process. That is a service that I have not seen by any other lab in the industry. So, VSL is more than just a testing lab?
James: Absolutely we are! We pride ourselves on being a critical asset to our clients in more ways than just testing. As I said earlier, I want to help farmers succeed so to do that we go above and beyond the norm. Our lab director Garvin Beach runs our ISO/ IEC accredited lab and handles various testing options such as potency testing, full panel testing, hemp fiber analysis, and etc. But we also assist with shipping and storage of product, research/equipment consultation, and brokering of sales for tested products if a client needs those additional services.
Lee: For new farmers to the industry, what are some general recommendations that you can offer them?
James: First, know your federal, state, and local laws. They are set up for the farmer to be in the know as they will be held accountable. Two, regularly test your crop! In Texas your limited to .3% Total THC. If that crop tests hot, then it has to be destroyed. So early and regular testing prior to cultivation is important to in order to know how your crop is progressing as far as Total THC potency levels and gives the farmer an accurate time frame on when to harvest their crop prior to it reaching unacceptable levels of Total THC. Third, especially if you are growing hemp for consumption and extraction, that farmers potential crop price will be based off a full panel test to show that it is clean of solvents, pesticides, toxins, mold and just as important, the quality of CBD and terpene content. Fourth, it is the law here in Texas as well as other states. In short, lab testing is something that everyone in the hemp industry needs.
Lee: How long does testing normally take?
James: If we are testing for fiber, that process normally takes about 5 days due to the manual process that we have to go through for that testing. Potency and full panel testing normally takes about 72 hrs or we can knock it out in 24 hrs if a client needs it expedited. All in all, we are pretty quick at getting that done as we understand time is money when it comes to crops and getting those crops sold.
Lee: Last question before we go. What do you want clients to remember about VSL as far as a reputation and what VSL stands for?
James: That’s easy and the core is something that I brought over from my military career. Integrity first and foremost, service before self, and excellence in all that we do and provide for our clients. Add a lot of humor into that mix and we have what we believe is a recipe for success that translates into success for our clients.
Lee: James, thank you so much for allowing us into your amazing facility and teaching us about the process of lab testing and giving us a personal look at how Veterans Scientific Laboratories is changing the hemp industry with professional services to help people be successful when it comes to the new commodity of hemp in Texas. If anyone has questions, concerns, or wants to know more about testing or growing hemp how can they get a hold of you?
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