All Toby McCracken needed for inspiration was to put his hands through a hemp stalk.
"He was running his fingers and lightning struck in his brain or something," hemp farmer and business partner Mike Meyer said.
While holding that stalk of hemp, McCracken came up with a way to more efficiently harvest hemp and created an attachment that can fit on the end of a power chassis made by harvester manufacturer Oxbo. What he wound up creating is the Revolutionary Hemp Harvester. The patent is still pending.
Meyer, who started working with McCracken last year, said most hemp harvesting is done by hand and he believes the invention could greatly improve efficiency in an industry that has more than quadrupled in size in the past year.
It can take a dozen workers a full day to harvest 6 acres, he said. Earlier this year, McCracken was able to harvest about 40 acres in a day with just one other worker in the field.
"That's revolutionary as far as what it saves on time," Meyer said.
The device can hook onto the end of the Oxbo power chassis and is equipped with combs to pull the hemp flower from the stem. A conveyor belt moves the flower to the back of the truck. The device also greatly reduces the drying time needed for the flower as most of the water is contained in the stem. It also eliminates the need for hand bucking and reduces the need to find labor.
"You can't get labor here," McCracken said. "It's just not here."
McCracken, whose family owns KLT Farms in Olathe, joined with Meyer and formed Revolutionary Hemp Harvest Equipment, a limited liability corporation.
As part of the business, the pair opened a 34,000-square-foot hemp- drying facility in Delta.
Hemp flower gathered by the harvester needs about 24 hours to dry. When pulled by hand and attached to the stem, it can take more than a week to dry, Meyer and McCracken said.
Since the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, which removed cannabis containing less than 0.3% THC from schedule I controlled substances, the number of licensed hemp farms in the U.S. has increased from about 100,000 to more than 500,000, according to a Vote Hemp survey.
McCracken and Meyer worked with Oxbo to construct a prototype. Oxbo typically takes up to three years to work out a new product, but in about 40 days they were able to find a way to attach the device to a chassis that typically harvests sweet corn or green beans.
The prototype arrived in Colorado in early September.
"It's got potential. We're definitely pursuing it more," Oxbo mechanical engineer Tyler Tetzlaff said. "We have our proof of concept out there and are satisfied. The next step is refining it."
This summer, McCracken harvested hundreds of acres of hemp around Delta and Olathe to test the device.
He said he keeps the flower buds as big as possible because companies want a variety of sizes.
So far, he said he's kept the product quiet while making sure it worked properly, but word is starting to get out in the area.
"We kind of kept it pretty secret for a while, but a lot of people in the valley have asked," he said.
After harvesting locally, Meyer and McCracken have taken the flowers to their drying facility to remove any excess stems and dry out the hemp.
They plan to start marketing their invention and believe there will be a lot of interest.
Meyer credited McCracken's ingenuity in creating what he calls a "game changer" for the hemp industry, which is still finding its way.
"Everyone is learning, but Toby has some experience and some natural invention gifts that he's applied to this that are exciting," Meyer said.
For information on the product, visit revolutionaryhempharvester.com.