A New Breed of Fiber Mill: BastCore Hemp Processing

Written and photographed by Maddy Bartsch

If you were to ask me what Nebraska is known for, I’d probably guess corn or football, neither of which I can say much more about. As I drove down from Minneapolis to Omaha for the first time, I’d likely add ‘long stretches of highway!’ to that list. But upon reaching my destination, it would seem Nebraska has extraordinary qualities you might not see from simply glancing out the window.

As I pulled into what looked like an industrial park, with trucks rolling in and out from a nearby business, the building I approached was unassuming and virtually blank from the outside. I parked in the grass and was struck by the immensity of the clear blue sky above me. Perhaps the past few years of living in a city has amplified my appreciation for the open sky, but whatever it may be, at this moment in time, it was striking. Massive bales of what looked like hay were stacked in front of the building, reaching into the sky three or four bales high, serving as a beautiful contrast to the sky but also hinting at what this blank canvas of a building was hiding inside.

BastCore is located in the greater-Omaha area and serves the fiber supply chain in an altogether unique way, through the processing of hemp. Outside, those were actually bales of hemp, harvested from across the country in states like Kentucky, Colorado, and Minnesota, which I was invited to see in person for BastCore’s open house at the end of September.

Inside this large warehouse is where BastCore’s operations take place. Across the spacious warehouse, a wall of hemp bales lines the back of the building. Directly across from the raw materials sits equipment for finishing hemp. The remaining half of the building is taken up by a giant machine specially made for processing bast fibers.

Coming from experience in mills that process wool, alpaca and other protein fibers, the open house served as a fascinating look into a world I know very little about – plant fibers are truly another species of textiles. I was joined by others from around the country who are excited about and investing in the possibilities and potential American-grown hemp can bring to our fiber systems: hemp farmers and yarn makers already acquainted with hemp, including Fibershed member Mary Pettis Sarley and Kentucky Cloth Project collaborator Kacie Lynn, as well as individuals looking for the possibility of investing in exciting new ventures, and a curious neighbor in Nebraska who, when asked about his reason for coming, simply replied he had heard there was an open house and wanted to see what went on in the large building.

John Lupien, BastCore’s founder and president, greeted everyone at the beginning of the tour before going into detail about the machinery used in processing at the mill. With various stages of hemp processing accessible for us to see and touch, it became apparent that processing hemp is not a “one-size-fits-all” sort of endeavor, as it involves precise measurements and many trials to get the hemp to behave in the fashion needed for user end-products.

Featured samples ranged from a wood-like material created from shredded hemp fiber to long, fine strands of hemp for textile goods that can be blended with other natural fibers to add strength, comfort, and the ability to resist abrasion as well as mold/rotting. It’s the unique ability of hemp to shape-shift to meet users’ needs that puts John and his team at the forefront of figuring out how to fine tune equipment used for processing hemp. Creating consistent hemp fiber that can match the needs of where they are headed next is their biggest challenge, and one that they are actively investigating.

Hemp goes through a similar process to linen, called retting, using water to break down or rot the cellular tissues of the stem allowing the bundles of bast-fibers to separate from the stem of the plant. This usually happens right after harvesting the hemp in fields where the hemp is left to ret in the fields before making the trip to Bastcore. This dependence on the natural process of retting makes for bales of hemp coming in at different stages in the process, with some bales having been retted more than others. Contaminants in the bales contribute to the complex job John and his team have in getting the kind of hemp product that fiber mills are eager to work with. John is optimistic, though, and demonstrates hemp processing for us at the open house.

The largest machine, taking up half the building, is loud, with pipes leading in multiple directions. It takes the straw-like hemp and spits out, almost as if by some sort of Dr. Seuss-like magic, a fine, fluffy fiber that loosely resembles the “straw” going in, but has taken on a totally different form.

It’s here where the excitement really begins to build as others in the hemp community dream about end uses for the fiber, from clothing to building materials and everything in between. There’s also a lot of other natural and reliable building materials that can be used too such as timber, what’s even better now a days is materials get placed into storage like a timber rack or other storage systems, this way the building materials don’t get effected by weather or other forms of erosion. There is an endless supply of uses for fiber and it can be kept as a reliable source and material due to these protection measures being taken. BastCore’s process puts these items into the realm of possibility, and John’s constant pursuit of creating a better fiber is the driving force behind this technology that makes American-grown hemp products an opportunity.

BastCore’s connection to our broader fiber system will create opportunity for larger retailers looking to make inventive blends of hemp and Climate Beneficial Wool. They will also offer small fiber mills the potential to create farm yarns that combine the beauty of protein fibers and cellulose fibers all grown within the same region.

The future is bright for hemp products and what this natural fiber can do for our local fiber systems thanks to the small-yet-active hemp community across the country. As I drove back to Minnesota that evening, I thought about Nebraska for something altogether different than what I had expected – hemp processing. And I know it won’t be long until others get to know the work of Bastcore too.

Learn more about the potential for blending bast fibers and protein fibers to create durable, breathable, biodegradable goods, through the 2017 Wool & Fine Fiber Symposium panel on bast fiber blends, featuring BastCore founder John Lupien. Reserve a ticket today to attend the Symposium on November 11th in Point Reyes Station, or tune in to the livestream on this page. Information about hemp-wool and hemp-wool-alpaca blending processes and textiles is available in the Kentucky Cloth Lookbook. Learn more about BastCore at bastcore.com.

Maddy Bartsch is a fiber artist and educator based in St. Paul, Minnesota. A co-founder and Board Member of the Three Rivers Fibershed, she can be found on instagram at @salt_of_the_north or reached by email at saltofthenorth at gmail.com.

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28 thoughts on “A New Breed of Fiber Mill: BastCore Hemp Processing

  1. John
    I am Durl Van Alstyne of Chico Flax LLC. We spoke at Point Reyes in November, during our discussion you invited us to bring a sample of flax to. your mill to see how flax would work with your machinery. We would like to take you up on your offer. Sandy has family in the Omaha area we would be staying with them and would like to bring a sample of our flax that will be harvested in May. Our trip will be in July, date to be determined, we could bring as much as 500#. Will this be enough to run through your mill? Since we talked we have leased a four acre parcel of valley sandy loam. The .20 acres that was planted in February is progressing nicely, we have great hopes to be in full production within two years expecting up to 18,000# a year. Hope to hear from you soon.

    Durl Van Alstyne
    Sandy Fisher

  2. Good Morning,

    I have Alpacas and have for a very long time wanted to blend Alpaca with hemp! This is the first article I have seen that actually addresses that endeavor with hemp!
    Since my friends and I have just finished shearing this would be a prime time to explore this project!
    Thank You in advance for your attention!
    Claudia Swenson
    Buzz n Humm Farm
    Monument Colorado

  3. I plan on having one of the first Hemp Outlet businesses in Southern Indiana within the next 24 months. This will give New Indiana Farmer`s time to get their Hemp Farms started.

  4. First, I want thank you for your support. My name is Ken McCoy. I am from Robeson county which has a rich history in farming. I am aware of the legislations that have passed in NC as well a the newly approved Farm Bill. I have applied for my NC Hempgrowers and processors license. We are in the process of reaching out to other potential hemp processors. However we have access to hundreds of acres of approved agricultural land in my county. I have secured a to 235,000 square foot of manufacturing facility. We are in the process of installing solar(by the way I own a small solar business). This will perfect for indoor growing and processing and research.

    In addition, Robeson county is a Tier 1, which is considered an economic depressed area. In turn, it qualified for several tax credit as well other incentives to do business here. And we could really used the jobs as well. I have a individual meeting scheduled at the beginning of February with NC Carolina Agricultural Commissioner….I really could use some advice from an expert like yourself. We need investment to couple along with our fantastic incentatives….Thanks in advance…

    Kinds Regards,

    Ken McCoy
    The Hemp Factory

  5. very interesting machine, we are plan to cultivate hemp in Thailand and Lao , please advice if we want to install a raw hemp fiber processing unit capacity around 1000 Kg. per hour

  6. I’m working with an invested group to launch the first Decortication and processing facility in Oregon. Any tips on finding a buyer for the fiber?

    1. Nathan, I am interested to see where your plans for the OR decortication and processing facility in OR are? I currently am involved in a 35 acre Hemp flower farm and am investigating hemp fiber processing facilities in US. Looking at feasibility of industrial hemp for fiber processing.

  7. Who do I talk to at your company with regard to being a grower/provider of hemp to your operation?
    I farm northwest of Fremont and see industrial hemp as a viable rotation crop in my organic operation.
    thanks, Chad Hansen
    Hansen Organic

  8. I’m working with a local business to being hemp manufacturing to Whatcom County in Washington State. Seeking advice on startup costs, and economic impacts of processing in your area. Any advice or resources you could point me to would be really helpful. Let’s help each other and save the world with hemp!

  9. Hi,
    My name is SriRakulan Kuhathasan and I am from Colombo, SriLanka. I am working on starting my own BioComposites manufacturing startup. I am planning to use hemp bast fibers to reinforce bioplastics like PLA. In our country we do not have large fields to enable retting processes. So I would like to know whether we can skip the retting process and go directly to the mechanical decortication process and if so whether it is possible to obtain quality hemp bast fibers by skipping the retting process. I would like to get your knowledge on this since knowledge of hemp processing is very poor in our country.

    1. Fibershed is a non-profit that supports independent producers, none of whom are currently growing hemp commercially or have arranged contracts. We recommend contacting hemp processors like Bastcore directly.

  10. Hello everyone,
    This article is very interesting and make me really excited to see this amazing resource being processed in USA. I’ve been in California for a little bit and I’ve seen the fibre from canabis being burned or composted. I’m wondering if their could be a used for this fiber as alternative to just being wasted. Maybe their is regulation about the THC content in the fiber it self. And despite the differences of fiber quality with hemp is there still room for use. Idk if someone could help me to find out more about this?

    Thank you very much to make the world with more hemp

    1. Hello, thanks for reaching out. There are no regulations or concerns regarding THC in fiber from cannabis plants. It is not clear if the fibers will be useful for textiles, as they tend to be much shorter and coarser than those from plants bred for fiber. Traditionally, hemp processing focused on fiber-optimized plants. Some companies like Circular Systems are working on systems to process textile-grade fiber from CBD or oilseed hemp. The fibers may be useful for other applications, such as paper. Check out ReStalk:


  11. Hi,
    My name is Rahul Agarwal. I have a jute manufacturing unit. I would like to know that can hemp be processed in the same way as jute is processed. I have a setup of a large scale production of jute fiber. Also can retting of jute be change from water retting to enhance the fiber quality and can the process change to shift from a semi mechanised process of producing jute fiber to mechanised production of jute and hemp fiber.

    1. We decorticated the fiber by hand and soaked it in a dilute solution of sodium hydroxide on the stove top for about one hour, then washed it repeatedly with hot water and soap, rinsed it, dried it, and hand carded it. This was good for small-scale R&D, but wouldn’t be great for larger scale projects, partly because of the large amount of wastewater produced. The best picture of the finished fiber is the one in the photo with the coin. You can also see the raw and degummed fibers in the far right column in the bottom photo.

  12. Hello thank you for the insightful article. We are planning on joining the hemp train in Missouri with a small scale of 10 acres for textile hemp with the potential of expanding to up to 300 acres. We would love to get involved in the community to learn techniques of growing, where to take it for processing and also help this movement! Does Bastcore accept the hemp from anyone? Any groups you would recommend joining? Thank you in advance! Keep fighting the good Fight!!

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