When the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production of hemp, Utkhede and his partners recognized a business opportunity to extract cannabidiol (CBD) from the plant and sell it to companies that make CBD-infused tinctures, salves, oils, balms, and lotions.
They formed Vantage Hemp in 2019 and spent the next two years developing two buildings in Greeley that are designed especially for CBD extraction. The company specializes in the production of pharmaceutical-grade CBD oils, distillates, and isolates. Its 60,000-square-foot facilities, which are designed around pharmaceutical production standards and processes, can process five tons of high-quality hemp biomass a day.
Its facilities have achieved ICH Q7 and WHO Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certifications in recognition of its commitment to rigorous pharmaceutical compliance and making it among the most accredited cannabinoid extractors. "The quality comes out of our procedures," Utkhede says. "We've established detailed procedures, and every step is recorded."
Vantage Hemp has entered into partnerships with companies both domestically and abroad to supply them with its CBD oil, distillate, and isolate products, including Medcan Australia.
The company also spent a year forming partnerships with farmers to grow the hemp it uses to make its products. While most of the farmers Vantage works with are in Colorado, the company has accepted hemp from farmers in Oregon and Kentucky. "We have a fairly extensive network of growers that supplies us with the hemp we need," Utkhede says. "What really matters is what's in the bag once it's in the door."
That means inspecting the incoming hemp for heavy metals and microbial content as well as ensuring it doesn't contain more than 0.3 percent of THC, the compound in the plant associated with getting a person high.
Challenges: Designing its facility to produce high-quality extracts while keeping its employees and first responders safe was among the biggest challenges Vantage faced when it was getting started. "These facilities are very unique," Utkhede said. "The equipment is high pressure. You're using large volumes of liquified propane and other flammable materials."
Unlike other extraction companies that have retrofitted existing buildings, Vantage had the opportunity to work with the city and the fire marshal on the design of its facility, ensuring that first responders know what they're getting into if there's an emergency. "We've had emergencies, and when the fire people come out they say that out of all the buildings they go into, ours are the ones they're the least concerned about because they approved it," Utkhede said.
Opportunities: Standardizing quality throughout the extraction industry would help Vantage Hemp in its efforts to educate its customers about the value of using its products and ensure that products are consistent. "The quality standards just aren't established," Utkhede says. "Everyone can make it as long as they don't have a claim on the product such as improving sleep or helping pain. We hope the industry goes to a more standardized approach to ensure quality and consistency."
Needs: Utkhede says that manpower will always be an issue. Vantage Hemp plans to hire up to six more employees by this summer, both people who have experience in extraction as well as those without it. The company hired several former Vestas Blades America employees after that company announced in February that it would lay off 450 of its workers across its three Colorado factories.
"You can come in without experience if you understand how to follow instructions and documentation practices," Utkhede says. "We've been able to hire a lot of really good, qualified personnel, but we're always going to be growing."