Q&A with Brittany Ferguson
Brittany Ferguson, VP of Quality Control and Corporate Values at Oso Vega, Inc., discusses the company’s commodities management platform and value-added services
After spending 10 years between developing her holistic nutrition practice and non-profit roles in international aid, Brittany Ferguson found the perfect balance of passions for social impact and sustainable food systems in her current position at Oso Vega, Inc., and Hungry Planet Intelligence, where she is working to raise the level of consciousness, both internally and externally, in the way companies do business and create impact in the farming industry. She is leading the efforts to bring hemp to market in a way that will have a positive impact on our food systems, our health, and our planet.
This interview was originally published in Nutraceuticals World
420AC: Please explain the Oso Vega innovative management services offered to hemp farmers and processors.
Ferguson:Oso Vega is a commodities management platform and value-added partner along the industrial hemp supply chain. What started as an AI/drone-based farm management software platform has evolved to include innovative logistics solutions that create greater efficiencies and quality output at seed, farm, processing and retail level. From our elite seed genetics and quality biological inputs to the Oso Vega farming software, proprietary processing technique and the commodities marketplace, we are combining the efficiencies of the technology sector with the best practice standards of the agricultural space.
420AC: The First Year Farmer Program is quite unique. What do you provide newbies?
Ferguson: Farmers have been the backbone of our country since it was founded and remain one of the key elements to a functioning society but continue to get squeezed from all angles. It is an industry struggling to engage young farmers as the nostalgia of the family farm wears off, the mountain of debt grows, and the barrier for entry remains too high. Oso Vega is committed to the communities we serve, so in order to encourage life back into this age-old profession alongside the buzz of this new crop, we started the First Year Farmer Program. The program will help alleviate risk with 100% seed financing, provide education, training, and THC level monitoring, access to our wet harvesting and flower drying solution and most importantly, a flower marketing agreement and placement of the end product on the Oso Vega commodities marketplace with a guaranteed sale. We want to open the door for new farmers to fall in love with this crop the way we have, while not having to bear the weight and burdens of a first time grow.
420AC: Are hemp growers turning a profit?
Ferguson: Yes and no. There was a lot of misinformation floating around following the 2018 Farm Bill on the ease of both growing hemp and selling it for large margins. Hemp was touted as the next agricultural gold rush, promising huge payouts to farmers of this new crop. Many farmers learned the hard way that growing hemp for flower can be very difficult, but more importantly, that growing a booming commodity in a new market without a locked contract for purchase of biomass can be disastrous. Like any good venture, the first year usually is a struggle, but once the plant is understood and contracts are signed early, farmers are on the right track.
Of course, the price per pound of flower has dropped over the last year, but I do believe this will only encourage higher quality product as the market becomes more competitive. Seed genetics, farming practices, and processing will all play a role in increased efficiencies which is why we are so excited about our partnerships. Our wet harvest processing has the capability to reduce operational costs for both farmer and extractor greatly, not to mention the increased efficiencies in extraction. With the right tools, there are still huge opportunities for that gold rush profit.
420AC: Any new services/products you plan to offer within the next 12 months?
Ferguson: This season Oso Vega will unroll our ClearAg software, hemp marketplace, and propriety wet-harvest processing technique to growers mainly in California, Colorado, and Texas.
One service that I am particularly excited for is our consumer-facing traceability platform. Consumers are being hit with a wave of new brands but lack the channels to truly understand what they are looking for and who they should trust. Because of this plant’s ability to pull heavy metals and other nutrients from the soil, it is incredibly important that farms growing for flower, which will be highly condensed for the nutraceutical product, are growing organically in clean soils. There are a lot of incredible farms and brands out there but there are also, unfortunately, some dishonest ones as well.
We wanted to find a way to elevate the industry standard. This platform will put the power in the consumer’s hands by giving them a full view into how products were made from seed to shelf. Education is key, but so is transparency. As a new industry, we can demand our supply chains are clean, and honest. This product will elevate the small regenerative and organic farms, and every brand doing it the right way, and hopefully put a spotlight on all the fake and mislabeled products and eventually push them out of the market.
420AC: What are the significant trends in the hemp industry?
Ferguson: No doubt, 2019 was the year of CBD, which will only continue to grow as it becomes a more widely accepted supplement for daily life and wellness. But the market, now feeling slightly oversaturated with new CBD brands, is opening for the next waves of cannabinoids; CBG and CBN both tout promising benefits. As the research deepens, and the seed genetics mature, we are going to see the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes both isolated and combined in different ratios. But my belief is that we will find the synergistic effect of the entire plant, THC included, where our body experiences the greatest benefit.
On a different track, I am both anxious and excited to see how the industry unfolds over the next couple of years, as there is a much deeper story to this plant. While the nutraceutical benefits cannot be denied, nor the incredibly rich nutritional profile of the seed, possibilities of fiber, plastics, hempcrete, the list goes on—what holds the most promise is the plant’s phytoremediation capabilities, not to mention that hemp sequesters more carbon than any other commercial crop. There is a lot at play, and still much to research, but hemp has the potential to be a game changer in the fight against the growing climate crisis.
420AC: Is there too much competition among growers and processors?
Ferguson: That is hard to say with the nutraceutical space booming as it is. The toughest competition seems to be showing on the retail side, which as a consumer is daunting, especially with no true regulation in place. New brands are popping up left and right making a lot of claims, and honestly, even as a consumer working in the industry, I find it difficult to blindly trust quality as the industry is now asking us to do.
But retail aside, as more and more states open the doors to hemp, we will most likely start to see an oversaturated flower market unless we begin to invest in the infrastructure for the plant’s other uses. There are huge potential markets in hemp fiber, plastics, graphene, seed/grain, fuel, hempcrete, etc. Currently, there are plenty of extractors ready to turn flower into CBD, but very few decorticators churning out the fibers. If we can effectively diversify the industry, this country will see incredible benefits, not only economically but with a wave of highly sustainable alternatives that will begin to press on other markets to, frankly, be better from an Earth-minded viewpoint.
420AC: What excites you most about your company?
Ferguson: Oso Vega, to its core, is a company deeply committed to the planet, to the community and to the ethical way we do business and treat our employees. Those values have been woven into the culture and have spilled out onto the partnerships we create. Ten years ago, the corporate social responsibility department would have been laughed out of meetings. Unfortunately, still to this day, greenwashing and PR stunts plague the American corporate landscape. But with my team’s support, and a CEO that has insisted on pushing for that triple bottom line from the beginning, I (impact and sustainability) have a seat at the table. No decision is made without first assessing environmental impact. No product is delivered until it is of the highest quality. And no project is begun without understanding how we can bring the most benefit to the community and all involved. This mindset and practice made it much easier in many ways thanks to the incredible industry that surrounds us. An industry that is filled with passionate visionaries who work tirelessly to bring the many incredible benefits of this crop to market.
420AC: On a personal note, what’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?
Ferguson: A boss once told me I was part badass ninja, part Mother Theresa, a mix, I would say, I am quite proud of. We are living through this swell of consciousness, an awareness that dares to question some deep seeded societal practices, from the climate crisis to our unsustainable food systems. Within my role’s focus on sustainability and social impact, I do not shy away from taking on the agribusiness giants (the badass ninja in me), but also believe that moving through this historically rich agricultural space requires a deep empathy and understanding for the way of life, the culture, and the incredible people that make up this space. At the end of the day, we all must engage with the belief that everyone is doing the best they know how, but that we all must do much, much better.