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Kentucky firm turns farmer-grown hemp in flooring and paneling
 
By DOUG GRAVES
Ohio Correspondent

MURRAY, Ky. —  Kentuckians recently voted online for the “2024 Coolest Thing Made in Kentucky!”  
The award, presented by the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers and Kentucky Farm Bureau, was handed to HempWood founder Greg Wilson by U.S. Senator Rand Paul in Murray, Ky., on April 22. From an initial field of 102 nominations, HempWood defeated Louisville Slugger baseball bats in the final vote.
 “Being known as the Coolest Thing Made in Kentucky is really cool,” said HempWood founder Greg Wilson. “We are an agriculture tech startup from Murray State in far western Kentucky, and winning this competition is proving to people what we can do.”
 HempWood flooring is manufactured in Murray using fiber hemp grown from 19 farmers in and around Murray. Most, he says, grow between 20 and 100 acres of hemp. HempWood employs 24 at its two factories.
 “We’re taking a plant that grows in four months and creating HempWood out of it to replace one’s 80-year old hardwood floors,” Wilson said. “Hemp is good for the soil, good for the air and it doesn’t need millions of acres.”
Wilson is a Maryland native. For 14 years, he lived in China to lend a leading hand in the production of bamboo flooring. After mastering the craft, Wilson and his wife, Bing Bai, moved to Murray, to develop wood flooring and paneling from hemp. HempWood is a sustainable wood product made from full length fiber hemp stalks and a soy-based glue.
 “I helped develop bamboo flooring and in 2010, I tested hemp in this process as well,” Wilson said. “It worked to a degree, but there wasn’t much of it around at the time. The Farm Bill passed in 2014 and I linked up with Murray State University because they were doing some test crops (for hemp).”
 In 2016, Wilson filed for his patents and in 2018 started his company on a small scale. He opened his first large factory a year later, and in 2021 opened his second full-scale factory.
To create the flooring, the hemp stalk is crushed to open the cell structure, then dipped into a soy glue. It is then dried like tobacco and pressed into a rectangular log, resulting in a dense block. The pattern of the floor is determined by the method the blocks are cut. Horizontally results in a live sawn grain and vertically in a rift and quartersawn grain.
It is then placed on a PureBond plywood backer using soy glue to make a durable flooring that Wilson said is 20 percent harder than hickory. The Kentucky Soybean Board is pro-HempWood because it contains approximately 13 percent soy. Soy flour is used in the adhesive formulation rather than traditional chemicals, which often include formaldehyde.
Wilson said the farmers who supply his company with hemp grow the product as added diversity for their farm to help offset fluctuations in prices of their commodity crops of corn, wheat and soybeans
 “We still have a long way to go,” Wilson said, “and our biggest problem is public awareness. No one knows we’re here. Less than four percent of the population has ever heard of HempWood.”
 Ah, but HempWood has caught the attention of some key people. The University of Kentucky, Murray State University, Warren County Public Schools, and Cornell have been using HempWood flooring in their buildings.  
“We have invested checkoff dollars into helping the folks at HempWood fund research to include more soy flour in their adhesive formulation,” said Kentucky Soybean Board Chairman Barry Alexander, who farms in Christian County. “The new uses category is one of the most promising things I think we can put our soy checkoff dollars into, and I’m particularly interested in uses that include soy meal and soy flour.
Information about HempWood can be found at www.hempwood.com.

7/9/2024