Sensi Seeds’ pivotal moments – The relaunch of the hemp industry

Two machines harvesting a hemp filed

HempFlax is the company that put the hemp industry back on the map in the Western world. It was officially launched in 1994. That was a memorable year because it was the first time in 50 years that industrial hemp was cultivated in the Netherlands. Read more about this Sensi Seeds daughter company here.

Two machines harvesting a hemp filed
The HempFlax harvest machinery in action

In the context of our 30th anniversary, we are currently publishing a series of articles about the pivotal moments in Sensi Seeds’ history. They represent the building blocks of our core values and what we stand for today.

In ’30 years of Sensi Seeds – from an overwhelming passion to an unshakable vision’ you can read about Ben Dronkers’ passion for cannabis and hemp and how the plant inspired him to establish Sensi Seeds, the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum in Amsterdam and Barcelona, and HempFlax. All these operations are driven by our inexhaustible will to develop, promote, protect and treasure the cannabis plant in all its forms. In this article we zoom in on a very significant subsidiary of Sensi Seeds: HempFlax.

What is HempFlax?

HempFlax is the company that put the hemp industry back on the map in the Western world. It was officially launched in 1994 in and around an old paper factory in Oude Pekela, in the province of Groningen in the Netherlands. That was a memorable year. It was the first time in 50 years that industrial hemp was cultivated in the Netherlands.

Hemp plants and a cloudy sky above

A lot of money and effort went into making this a reality. Ben Dronkers and his team had special farm machinery developed, and in the paper factory, new machines that had been specially developed for hemp were installed to process the crop into all manner of semi-manufactured products. Ben took the relaunch of the crop very seriously. So seriously that he even lived in the factory for a time, in order to be as close as possible to the starting phase of the project.

But was there a lot of demand for hemp as a raw product at that time? Was this a commercial venture intended to respond to market demand? Absolutely not. In Europe, the industrial variant of cannabis had long been forgotten, with the exception of a handful of acres in France and Hungary. There was no market for it. Financially, the plan was not at all profitable and it was almost unthinkable that HempFlax would ever would be. So why on earth did Ben start an industrial hemp farm and invest his own money in a factory, agricultural land and all kinds of machinery to harvest and process the crop?

The ambition behind HempFlax

There was just one reason: Ben’s ambition was to bring back this traditional eco-crop with such a long history to his home country, Europe and the rest of the world.

His ambition did not come out of the blue, of course. In the early 1970s, Ben had learnt through his clothes shop about hemp as a raw material for textiles. In 1994, the year that HempFlax was launched, Sensi Seeds and the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum in Amsterdam were almost 10 years old, and he was using these companies to achieve a similar goal: the return of the cannabis plant to its rightful place in society.

Alan Dronkers, Jack Herer and Ben Dronkers in the HempFlax factory
Alan Dronkers, Jack Herer and Ben Dronkers in the HempFlax factory

Meanwhile, Ben had become friends with the world-famous cannabis activist Jack Herer, whose motto was “hemp can save the world”. Ben learnt a lot from Jack and both shared the frustration that industrial hemp was banned for the same illegitimate reasons as cannabis. Yet, the crop had served mankind as a raw material for food, rope, paper, textile and oil for thousands of years. Furthermore, hemp also grows quickly, does not need any pesticides, hardly takes any nutrients out of the soil and can produce more products than the same amount of any other crop whatsoever. That makes hemp an extremely sustainable alternative to fossil fuels and trees.

For years, Ben had been promoting the many advantages of hemp. One day, someone challenged him. “If what you claim about hemp is true, then why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?” That was the last bit of encouragement Ben needed to start the project that would become HempFlax.

Slow and steady wins the race

In 1994, HempFlax started with 140 hectares of hemp plants. The team, which included Ben’s oldest son Alan, had to completely reinvent the process of production and processing. It wasn’t just the crop, but innovation too, that had been left untouched for 50 years. Not only that, the company had to pull out all the stops to convince potential customers to switch to hemp raw materials. The result was a warehouse full of hemp fibres, and no buyers.

Alan Dronkers had the following anecdote to tell:

“One day, a team of us were sitting around a pile of hemp fibres. There it was, the fruits of a few months’ hard labour. But there was no-one that wanted to buy it. Suddenly, we received a call from Turkey. A large cigarette factory urgently needed hemp for the production of cigarette paper. We were over the moon, because we could sell all our stock in one day! [laughs] And of course it’s pretty ironic that our hemp was actually smoked in the end.”

HempFlax warehouse with raw hemp materials and a forklift
Every day HempFlax turns thousands of hemp plants into raw materials

Over the last 20 years, HempFlax has slowly gained ground and today we can conclude that all that effort was worth it. HempFlax currently cultivates 1,200 hectares of hemp on land in the Netherlands, Germany and Romania, where a new factory is being built. Every day, the company turns thousands of hemp plants into the raw materials that are processed into hundreds of products. Even the door panels for BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar were made using HempFlax fibres. In 2015, the company is the European market leader and inspires others to join it in growing the crop. What’s more, HempFlax has set the standards for hemp cultivation and processing that are used worldwide.


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    Sensi Seeds

    The Sensi Seeds Editorial team has been built throughout our more than 30 years of existence. Our writers and editors include botanists, medical and legal experts as well as renown activists the world over including Lester Grinspoon, Micha Knodt, Robert Connell Clarke, Maurice Veldman, Sebastian Maríncolo, James Burton and Seshata.
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