From left, Craig Roth of Sunshine Growers and Green Point Research founders Light Townsend, Jordan Pace and David Hasenauer gather at the Sunshine nursery in Fort Meade.
From left, Craig Roth of Sunshine Growers and Green Point Research founders Light Townsend, Jordan Pace and David Hasenauer gather at the Sunshine nursery in Fort Meade. (Hand-out/Green Point Research)

A research and cultivation company is counting on the acquisition of a Fort Meade nursery to help it become one of the first and largest hemp-dedicated operations in the country.

Fort Lauderdale-based Green Point Research bought Sunshine Growers, a 30-acre nursery at 2400 U.S. Highway 17 in Polk County, from Craig Roth, who has been a grower for 33 years and has been at the Fort Meade site for 13. The $2.15 million deal closed Sept. 27.

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“We plan to move our seed production from Colorado into Florida, creating new jobs in the agricultural sector,” said David Hasenauer, chief executive of Green Point. “Our new facility will serve a vital role in the Florida hemp industry.”

SVN |Saunders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate represented the buyers and seller in the transaction. Advisors Kyle Vreeland, Greg Smith, and Richard Dempsey, listed the property for the seller, while Senior Advisor Carson Futch brought the buyer.

The 10-acre commercial nursery at 2400 Hwy. 17 N previously specialized in growing flowers, vegetables and outdoor plans.
The 10-acre commercial nursery at 2400 Hwy. 17 N previously specialized in growing flowers, vegetables and outdoor plans. (Polk County Property Appraiser)

Green Point’s focus is on industrial hemp, a cousin of the marijuana plant that by legal definition has a THC level of less than 0.3 percent. Tetrahydrocannabinol is the chemical responsible for marijuana’s euphoric effects, and potent marijuana plants can have up to 30 percent THC content.

Hemp does, however, produce CBD, or cannabidiol, the red-hot wellness product of the moment that is being touted for a wide variety of health issues, from seizures to anxiety, pain and inflammation.

Green Point sells seeds and seedling trays to farmers who are interested in growing the hemp plant. Once it establishes itself as a full grower, the company will sell the product to processors and extractors who will turn it into CBD oil.

The company also has its own processing capacity to refine CBD oil for sale to companies that make medical products or add it to food, beauty or other CBD-specific products.

“There’s a ton of other end-manufacturers that are looking for CBD right now,” Hasenauer said.

The Fort Meade nursery, which has more than 500,000 square feet of existing greenhouse and shade housing, will complement three other Florida farms Green Point has invested in either solo or in partnerships: a tomato farm in Boynton Beach, a blueberry/grazing operation near Clermont; and a peanut farm in Jasper.

The company will “partition off a portion of each farm that we’re going to do a targeted pilot project in,” Hasenauer told GrowthSpotter. “We’re the first people to do this on this scale in Florida in basically 100 years. There’s a lot of data that has to be re-learned.”

To that end, there won’t be drastic changes at Sunshine Growers, which produces flowers, vegetables and outdoor plants.

“We are excited for Green Point Research to expand its agricultural reach by purchasing our turnkey facility to grow hemp starter plants to help farmers pivot to this new industry,” said Roth.

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He will lease back a portion of the nursery and will remain part of management.

“We’re not corporate raiders, and that’s not how we see the hemp industry,” Hasenauer said. “We’re going to keep the staff on, their operations are going to continue as usual, and we’ll slide into empty space and then we’ll scale as the market scales.”

And it’s estimated to be a formidable buildup. While researchers have pegged the annual medical CBD industry at $20 million to $30 million in coming years, the commercial and industrial side of hemp production could be a $9 trillion industry. Hemp can be used in rope, textiles, clothing, shoes, food, paper, biofuel and biodegradable bioplastics to replace single-use plastics.

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In the wake of the medical and recreational marijuana movements, lawmakers both nationally and at the state level have shifted gears on what had been a nationwide prohibition on hemp farming.

The 2018 federal Farm Bill made hemp legal at the federal level and cleared the way for states to allow its cultivation. The Florida Legislature did so this spring and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law effective July 1 of this year. Florida joins 45 other states that have defined industrial hemp as distinct from marijuana and removed barriers to its production.

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The advocacy group Vote Hemp said in a September report that since the passage of the farm bill, cultivation is poised to grow rapidly. This year, 511,442 acres of hemp have been licensed nationally, more than four times the number of acres licensed from the previous year, when much of the production was for research purposes.

Florida is the place to be, Hasenauer said. He graduated from high school in Vero Beach and said most of Green Point Research’s founding members “are central Florida guys.

“This is home to us, this is where we want to be,” he said. The state’s year-long production cycle, low seasonality and lack of frost makes it “the ideal place” to grow hemp, “and we fully intend to capitalize on it.”

This the second Sunshine Growers nursery in Polk County to be sold this year. Atlanta-based Surterra Wellness, which describes itself as one of the largest U.S. providers of medical, wellness and lifestyle cannabis products, bought Sunshine Growers at 3516 Hamilton Road in Lakeland for $3.3 million in February.

In 2018, Futch was appointed to serve on the UF/IFAS Industrial Hemp Pilot Project Advisory Committee. In this role, he is helping to assess and recommend guidelines for growing, manufacturing and processing varieties of hemp for production across Florida as a new agricultural industry.

“This deal was interesting because the buyer’s goal is to be on the front end of the industrial hemp revolution,” said Futch. “The licenses haven’t been issued yet, but this is our company’s first time being involved in a sale related to Florida’s up and coming hemp industry.”

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at Newsroom@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-6261. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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