Morris recently joined our podcast host TG Branfalt for a discussion covering all things industrial hemp. In this interview, Morris talks about NoCo Hemp Expo’s founding and rapid success and the myriad industrial applications of the hemp plant, which include biodegradable plastics, eco-friendly construction materials, and even hemp-based carbon nanosheets for use in supercapacitors. Morris also shares the stories and inspiration behind some of his other hemp companies, including an upcoming line of hemp guitars, and more!
Tune in via the media player below, or scroll further down to read a full transcript of this week’s Ganjapreneur.com podcast episode.
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TG Branfalt: Hey there. I’m your host TG Branfalt and thank you for listening to The Ganjapreneur.com Podcast where we try to bring you actionable information and normalize cannabis through the stories of ganjapreneurs, activists, and industry stakeholders.
Today I’m joined by Morris Beegle. He’s a hemp industry entrepreneur, co-founder and president of WAFBA, We Are For Better Alternatives, family of companies, which includes the annual hemp expo, NoCo Hemp Expo. Since 2012 Beegle has developed global brands in the hemp space with eight companies from NoCo to Colorado Hemp Company to Let’s Talk Hemp to Silver Mountain Hemp Guitars. How are you doing this afternoon, Morris?
Morris Beegle: Doing good, TG. Thanks for having me on.
TG Branfalt: I’m delighted to have you on. I really like having the hemp guys on. You guys are always an interesting breed. So before we get into everything that we want to cover today, tell you about yourself, man. How’d you end up in the space?
Morris Beegle: Well, I was in the music industry for 25 years or so, basically from the late ’80s, 1987, ’88, up in through 2010, 2011. I had a music production company, one-stop shop called Happy Scratch Records that I had started in ’95 when I moved back to Colorado. When I moved back to Colorado in ’95 and started this, I was inspired by the Seattle scene and how Seattle blew up. I got to spend a bunch of time there. You had Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Alice In Chains. Coming back to Colorado, I wanted to see the same thing happen here. There’s a great local music scene, pretty diverse, and not as focused as the Seattle scene was. But when I moved back here, I got dialed in to Fort Collins.
I grew up in Loveland, but Fort Collins had a store there called The Hemperor Wears No Clothes and it was based off the Jack Herer book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes. I read that book and Jack’s kind of the prophet of the industry, the entire cannabis industry, but brought light to a lot of what hemp can do and the difference between hemp and marijuana, but yet it’s all cannabis. So that’s really when I got introduced to it. I didn’t really become a hempster at that point. I’ve always been an overall cannabis supporter and a partaker for quite some time. As I did my music business stuff, I did run some hemp merchandise, I did some hemp shirts and hemp hats, but really never got into the hemp thing in the cannabis space until the music business thing kind of crashed for me. I was really dialed into the physical media side of things with CDs and DVDs and manufacturing and packaging and physical product distribution into retail stores and through wholesale accounts.
And here comes the Internet and the digital age and Napster and mp3.Com, followed by iTunes and Amazon and all these other digital platforms that really pretty much eliminated the record store market except for a handful of cool stores that still do vinyl and merchandise. But the CD market got decimated and my business dried up. I was looking for something else to channel my skillset into and the cannabis thing was happening in Colorado with medical being pretty strong. As of 2009, a lot of dispensaries started opening up and then in 2012 we ran Amendment 64 which legalized recreational marijuana and taxed and regulated it just like alcohol. Within that legislation there was an opportunity for farmers here in Colorado to start growing industrial hemp.
At that point in time I thought it would be a great transition to move from the music space and into the hemp and cannabis space and start a merchandise company. That’s what happened in 2012. We started Colorado Hemp Company as a merchandise company, doing T-shirts and hats and working with some other textile brands that did apparel and wallets and bags and shoes. That’s really how we got started. The following year we started a paper printing business using hemp paper. I had found a hemp paper company that I started buying paper from. The following year we started doing events, which were a needed thing to educate people about industrial hemp, not only the industry itself as we were getting to be brand-new, but consumers as well.
So that’s basically laid the platform for what is WAFBA and where we’ve gone with this. That was with merchandise and printing and paper, and then the event side of things with bringing people together and the education and the advocacy and really just trying to figure out how to facilitate an industry and help move the thing forward by bringing people together.
TG Branfalt: Can you tell me about any parallels between the early music industry and the early … When you decided to get into the hemp industry, it was pretty early.
Morris Beegle: Yeah. I think that there’s really a lot of parallels when you look at there’s a supply chain and in the music industry, that would be musicians going into the studio and making music. From there, that it would have producers and editors and then marketers and selling product to the public. The hemp industry is similar, where you’ve got farmers and you’ve got processors and you’ve got manufacturers and you’ve got marketers and you’ve got events. What you have in both spaces is a lot of creative people. So I’ve seen a real parallel in just the creative element and people thinking outside of the box in this space. It’s just a different mindset in people with a slightly different intention and maybe kind of a counterculture approach.
TG Branfalt: You mentioned the counterculture. I want to go back to earlier when you were talking about the early grunge scene. I’m a huge grunge guy. I love Mudhoney and Jesus Lizard.
Morris Beegle: Mudhoney.
TG Branfalt: Love Mudhoney.
Morris Beegle: I saw Mudhoney at The Off Ramp in Seattle back in, I think, ’91 or ’92. It was great.
TG Branfalt: Be still my heart. Is that something that you think drew you to the hemp industry was this sort of counterculture? I mean it seems like you were pretty entrenched in it before you entered the space.
Morris Beegle: Well, when I was really trying to figure out what was going to be the next step of my life after spending so much time in the music industry and I wanted to do something that, A, is fun, B, that I’m passionate about and I really care about that could make a difference. And then I just feel good about what I’m doing and putting out into the world and that my kids would be proud of me about. So it was just one of these things. I just I felt compelled to do it because I think that our world needs to wake up socially and consciously and just become more aware of what we’re doing in our everyday lives and to our planet and to our environment.
I really just think that hemp can be a game changer in changing the way people think about our world, our planet, and our environment and how we should grow crops and how we should produce finished goods and how we should recycle and replenish all of that. I just think that’s what drew me to it. It’s kind of what drew me to music. There was just this art and this presence that drew me into music that’s really … I don’t know what the exact word is. I’ve tried to figure it out before, but it’s that something else that’s out there that just draws you. The invisible spirit, the invisible energy.
TG Branfalt: When did you decide that you were going to go all-in with hemp? I mean it’s a risk. You deal with the banking issues and being ancillarily associated with cannabis. And then you said you had kids, so I mean, and you do so many different things. When was it that you were like, “All right, this is what I’m doing?”
Morris Beegle: It was really in 2012 and 2013. When we started the company, I felt really passionate about that cannabis was on the way to becoming legalized and becoming socially acceptable. It was funny that marijuana was leading the way when hemp should have never been illegal in the first place. You don’t utilize hemp to get high or to get intoxicated. I felt good about being on this side of the plant and really not being a big activist for the medical and the recreational sides. Not that I’m not an advocate and I don’t support it, because I do. I don’t think anybody should go to jail for the plant, period. I think anybody should be able to utilize this plant for medicinal purposes and get themselves off of some of these prescription drugs that cannabis absolutely can replace.
It’s being shown over and over and over, not only in peer review science studies, but the anecdotal evidence is just it’s mountains and mountains and mountains of it. Anecdotal evidence does matter. When you look at the industrial side of it, the food side of it, nutrition, health and wellness and therapeutic side with all the hemp and the cannabinoids and CBD, the protein, the amino acids, all of it, it’s all good. There’s nothing, there’s no cons about this plant in my eyes. So I just felt really good about jumping into this space and I’m all in till the end.
TG Branfalt: The only negative thing about smoking a joint is that you can go to jail for it. Isn’t that some adage?
Morris Beegle: Well yeah. That is a negative thing and nobody should go to jail for this. I absolutely will stand up and fight till this thing is fully legal. People that have gone to jail for it should all be expunged. All that should be off their record.
TG Branfalt: So I want to switch gears a little bit. I want to talk you about the NoCo Hemp Expo. It’s often referred to as the most important hemp industry event. It’s won that distinction twice by the Hemp Industries Association. Can you tell me about how it started and how it evolved into this award-winning industry venture?
Morris Beegle: Well, we started in 2014 because there was a need to have hemp-centric events, which weren’t really going on. There were a handful of small little gatherings at libraries and universities in a conference room with very little as far as product display or networking or true education. That’s what really was the catalyst is, “Hey, we got to have conferences and trade shows.” So we put on this first trade show and a buddy of mine that I’d worked with in the music industry and a good friend of mine was booking this place called Ricky B’s in Windsor, which is a club that’s got a multitude of rooms. It’s got a big open room with a stage and a bar and a kitchen and another room where you could put some exhibitors. So it had this setup where we could throw an event and have speakers. We could have live music. We could have food. We could make a hemp beer, which we did. We could have a full-on event.
We launched NoCo in April of 2014 and pretty much sold it out. There was 330 people at the event and the place was full all day. We had a really good response. A lot of great people threw in to participate right at the get-go of this industry. So we moved it to a bigger venue the next year out at the Ranch Events Complex in Loveland and had about 1250 people. And then we increased our space again and had 3000 people. Then it went to 6000, and this year we had over 10,000 people. It’s just continued to grow and grow and grow as far as the amount of companies and industry people participating and the amount of general public that has become really interested in in the plant and the different products that are made from it.
So it’s just one of these things that’s just continued to grow over and over and over. It’s kind of like a band. You know how you start your garage band and you play a small dingy club and you got 10 people there. Then you go to the next place and you got 50 people. Then the next thing you know you’re playing stadiums like U2 and Metallica.
TG Branfalt: That wasn’t my experience in a band.
Morris Beegle: Well, it wasn’t mine either. But that’s the road. U2 started off in shitty little clubs just like Metallica did.
TG Branfalt: How important is in-person networking in the Internet age? I mean everyone has an Instagram. Everyone has a Facebook. Why are events like these so important?
Morris Beegle: I don’t think that there’s any way to replace face-to-face networking time and gatherings with entertainment and just the ability to network and socialize and get to know people, as well as go to conferences and hear experts speak on a variety of topics and be able to interact with those people, ask questions and learn. To me, there’s no equating having the live situation and being part of that or just participating online in social media and little conference rooms and virtual this and virtual that. There’s a of business that can be done that way. I mean I do business that way too, but I would say the appearing at events and trade shows just goes a long way to building real relationships.
TG Branfalt: The NoCo Hemp Event happened, the expo happened pretty recently. Can you tell me about what people were talking about at that event? What was the buzz during the show?
Morris Beegle: Well, a big buzz is the Farm Bill passed at the end of 2018. Trump signed it on December 20th. So the Farm Bill passing is now we’re federally legal. It’s no longer associated with the Controlled Substances Act. The DEA has no jurisdiction over hemp. It now falls under the USDA, and it also has the FDA in the mix. The big buzz is, A, now it’s federally illegal, B, how are we going to regulate it and, C, how is the FDA going to come in here with their recommendations for regulation of this plant. So that’s really the hot topic and that’s going on right now. What are these federal regulations coming down from the USDA and the FDA going to look like in the end? And how restrictive is that going to be for parts of our industry to really be able to grow? Is it going to block out some of the smaller, more boutique entrepreneur craft type producers? So there’s a lot of questions that remain.
TG Branfalt: We’ll get into more of the new federal regulations a little bit later. We’ve sort of been dancing around the music issue throughout this episode. Tell me about the guitar company, man, Silver Mountain Guitars. How do you use hemp in the production? Give me the rundown. What I want to know is how it sounds compared to a traditional guitar.
Morris Beegle: Okay. So have you listened to my podcast at all?
TG Branfalt: I have.
Morris Beegle: Okay, so that intro guitar piece is hemp guitar that I play.
TG Branfalt: Okay.
Morris Beegle: The sound is great. You can load whatever pickups in there, whatever hardware you want. But it’s the body of the guitar is a bass fiber composite shell that’s molded around a wood core. So it’s not a solid body hemp guitar. There’s a bass fiber composite molded shell that wraps around a wood core. They’re fairly light. They’re lighter than a wood guitar. And again, they sound really good. I’ve done SG. I’ve done two tellies, got a Les Paul Jr. I’ve got another SG on the way and I’m going to be creating a Strat model for a buddy of mine. He’s going to be the first guy that we actually do a custom one for.
But I’ve been really just dialing in with these guys who’ve been making these for the last five or six years in Canada. It’s still in somewhat prototype mode as far as it’s been hard being able to scale up and be able to produce these on a larger scale. So I think that we’re finally getting ready to clear that hurdle. It seems that way. We’re also making ukuleles with these guys. I think that that production, there’s just been a few technical tweaks with some of the finishing and some of this material that’s got certain nuances in the production side of things. But I think that we’re about to the point where it’s a done deal. Now it’s about scaling up and being able to produce these in some type of quantity rather than one a month.
TG Branfalt: I hear a lot that people who are trying to do these sort of unique projects with hemp have a very hard time finding processors. Is that something that you are experiencing? Are people at the trade shows recognizing that that exists? Could we see that market filled pretty soon?
Morris Beegle: Yes. There is definitely a lack of processing here in the United States outside of extraction for cannabinoids, oil extracts, all of that. That’s really the processing that’s pretty available in the US. But there’s still not enough processing for as much material that’s going to be grown this year, I can tell you that. There’s going to be big issues with that. We definitely have a lack of fiber processing, which is what I’m really excited about. I really got into the industry based on the fiber side of things for composites and plastics and building materials and textiles. That’s what drew me into it. I like the food part of it too with the hemp seeds and the pressed oil and the protein powder. But there’s a long ways to go with the processing for that here in the United States and in North America overall for the fiber side, not the food side. Canada’s been doing the food grain hemp parts thing for 20 years.
But there’s definitely a lack of the processing, but that is going to change now since the Farm Bill was signed. There’s more confidence in the investors market. People realize that there is value in the fiber, the stock side of it. Implementing that processing is going to take the next two or three years to really start building stuff out and being able to utilize that material to get it into a paper or building materials and bio-plastics in some of these industrial processes where it will make it easier for guys like me that want to make more guitars or guitar cabinets or plastic guitar picks that are biodegradable with hemp plastic. So right now there’s a handful of us out there that are doing these novelty things, at least here in the United States.
There’s people that are doing a lot more than that over in Europe, because Europe’s been doing this fiber side of thing. They’re the most advanced when it comes to utilizing fiber for a variety of different industries. China does a variety of that too. They’re more geared on the textiles, apparel side of thing. But we need to get a lot of this European technology over here, as well as some of the Chinese technology, and build out this fiber side of things because that’s where we’re going to be able to have a tremendous impact in this country.
TG Branfalt: It sounds like you focus a lot on industrial issues, or industrial uses rather. Whenever we talk about hemp, we always end up on CBD. I’ve been covering this since 2014, and even just five years ago, CBD wasn’t the hot hemp issue. How has the industry changed with the rise in CBD interest?
Morris Beegle: Well, when I started in 2012 nobody was even talking about CBD that was in my circle. There was people talking about CBD and other cannabinoids in the marijuana side of things and things just started to shift. There’s a couple of companies, I guess, HempMeds, Cannabest which has turned into CV Sciences, or was that group of guys based out of San Diego that really started making this CBD from hemp thing a real business. These guys forged a brand-new industry and a lot of people really don’t know that story. It would be a good story for you to investigate is this San Diego underground group that really developed the beginnings of the CBD market. As you look where it is today, it’s the vast, vast majority of what the market is. It’s driving all the economics of it.
I think it’s great. I think that once it gets settled, it should be regulated just like a dietary supplement, just like a food ingredient. That’s exactly what it is. Hopefully we get the FDA there and we don’t have to overregulate the producers to get this product on the market. But that stuff should be in apothecary sections across the country. Consumers should have the choice as to where they’re going to get their cannabinoids. If they want to take them and they don’t want to get high, they should be able to go to Whole Foods or Vitamin Cottage. If they want to go get them at their dispensary and have THC. They should be able to do that.
If they want to go to their doctor and to their pharmacist because that’s who they trust and they want medications from whatever pharmaceutical company with CBD or other cannabinoids, then the consumer should have that option too. It’s interesting to see how these channels are developing. Hopefully here in the next couple years, they’ll be pretty defined and we’ll have a clear path for hemp-derived CBD and cannabinoid products. You’ll have your adult use side of the market, and you’ll have your pharmaceutical side.
TG Branfalt: What are a couple industrial applications that many people might not think about? You’re obviously really tuned into this industrial side.
Morris Beegle: Well, let’s start with just what can be done on the fiber side. So you can make textiles. You can make clothing and carpet and upholstery. You can make composites. There’s a lot of car manufacturers in Europe. This is a market that they created as making the inside door paneling and trim pieces using a hemp flax based plastic composite that’s lighter and way more eco-friendly and environmentally less impactful on the earth. Building materials they’ve been utilizing in Europe for a long time and other parts of the world. You can make way greener, more sustainable homes using hemp-based building materials. A new development in the last three or four years is the ability to take this hemp fiber and create carbon nano sheets that could be utilized in super capacitors and battery storage. So I think that-
TG Branfalt: Seriously?
Morris Beegle: Yeah. That’s a pretty exciting technology that’s out there that people are going to be developing. I think you’re going to see stuff for the oil and gas industry, loss prevention materials. There’s different materials that have been created or attempted to be created in the last decade that could go into, whether that’s in the fracking situations or oil cleanup and being able to absorb all this stuff. Texas now coming on board, there’s a whole bunch of people from the oil and gas industry that are looking to start growing hemp and utilizing industrial materials for the oil and gas industry to help clean up some of this shit that they’ve been doing for the last 50 to 100 years. So that’s interesting. It’s how can hemp clean up the stuff that’s been poisoning our earth.
TG Branfalt: You’ve mentioned the Farm Bill a couple of times, and I mean we’re standing on a precipice right now. We’re awaiting the FDA regulations. As I’m sure you’re aware, they’ve pointed to Epidiolex saying that there’s a patent on CBD, which sort of muddies the CBD waters. Despite the passage of the Farm Bill, we have no clear direction from the FDA. But it was only a few months ago seemingly that, I guess, almost a year ago that the Farm Bill was passed. How has the industry changed since the passage of that Farm Bill for companies on the ground?
Morris Beegle: I would say that a lot of smart companies are getting all of their operations in place. They’re using GMP-compliant facilities, making products in a way that are going to stand up to the scrutiny of the dietary supplement industry. That’s the direction that these companies are going. People are not backing off. People are moving forward like nothing’s going to happen. A lot of people are. They’re just rolling the dice and throwing a lot of money at it. There is going to be stuff coming down the pipe and people are going to have crop failures. There is going to be some serious chaos that happens in this industry in the next couple years. But I do think when the regulatory process is done that these products will be regulated like dietary supplements and like another food ingredient.
TG Branfalt: Is the lack of FDA clarifications, is that the biggest issue facing the industry right now? Or is it something that we don’t think about, people who aren’t in the industry don’t think about?
Morris Beegle: That’s a really good question. I would say that the FDA thing is really the biggest unknown at this point. But I would say that there’s so much money involved in this now and there’s a lot of political clout that’s pushing for what seems to be a properly regulated industry so we can create these products and a lot of people can compete in the marketplace. But the crystal ball is a little bit fuzzy. I’m in it every day and I’m not exactly sure. I am hopeful that things, in the end, that we’re going to have an industry that’s just like any other agricultural type of industry. That’s what this is. It’s an agricultural crop.
We know now with the passage of the Farm Bill that the stocks and the seeds are grass, generally recognized as safe. So we can do whatever we want with those parts of the plant. The only thing that is cloudy is this flower side, the extraction side, and how these cannabinoids are going to be dealt with when it comes to growing, processing, and the final product. Is any THC going to be allowed in these final products? Is isolate going to be able to be used from any of these compounds? Are all the isolates basically going to belong to the pharmaceutical industry and all we can use are these full spectrum broad spectrum whole plant extracts?
There’s clarification that’s going to be coming down the pipe. I’m not exactly sure where it’ll end up. A lot of people don’t think we’re going to be able to use isolates, that those will be deemed to the pharmaceutical industry.
TG Branfalt: You said the crystal balls a little fuzzy. Well, look into your crystal ball for me. What do you think? Taking CBD out of it, all right. Let’s say the FDA says you cannot isolate CBD, whatever. What do you think would be the next big hemp sort of thing?
Morris Beegle: The next big hemp thing,? I think-
TG Branfalt: Yeah, that’s industrial.
Morris Beegle: I would say animal feed and animal products, pet products. That stuff is happening to some degree now, although it’s not considered legal, the animal side of things domestically, they’re still the FDA has to allow that. They’re trying to fast track certain things, but there’s studies that have to be done. I think that the animal feed market’s going to be large, for sure. Livestock is a huge industry, which is another thing that we could discuss for a long time is industrial agriculture and the industrial livestock industry, which is terrible for our environment and the climate. So I think fiber, I think the grain, that’s where it has to go. Protein powder. People are becoming more organic, more regenerative, more plant-based foods.
Cannabinoids are going to be there. It’s a health and wellness product that’s a plant that can do all these things. So what’s the next big thing? I think that all the uses that … all the potential replacements that it can go into these various industries and replacing these different ingredients to green up products across the industrial spectrum. I mean that’s going to be huge. I don’t know if it’s necessarily one thing. I think it’s just a combination of all the things that we’ve been talking about for a long time, that hemp can do 25,000 different things or 50,000 different things. What is that number? We’re going to find out that number over the course of the next 10 or 20 years because there’s a significant interest to get this crop grown in large acreage and to get into the market.
TG Branfalt: Finally, what advice would you have for entrepreneurs looking to enter the industrial hemp space, not the CBD space, not the cannabis space, but the space that you are sort of entrenched in. What’s your advice for them?
Morris Beegle: Well, first advice is get into something that you really like and that you’re really passionate about. Don’t make it just because you think there’s going to be money in it. I think people are misdirected when it comes to that too often. I’ve been fortunate as an entrepreneur to follow my heart and follow my passions to the music industry and now into the hemp and cannabis space because this is what I want to do. I love what I do and me being a fiber guy, I’m going to do my part. I suggest this at anybody at this point in time. If you’re interested in the fiber side, now is the time because we have the opportunity as entrepreneurs, as innovators, to really create something that’s never been created here in the United States, and that is a hemp fiber side of the market.
There’s technology out there domestically and internationally that has yet to be implemented that, A, we need to come across and discover and connect and collaborate with people that are doing this and figure out how to have it funded and get this implemented. There’s an opportunity for entrepreneurs right now to really just create a future based on our own intention and our own purpose and our own vision.
TG Branfalt: You’re quite the visionary when it comes to this, man, and I really appreciate you taking the time to come on the show. It’s not often that we get a pure industrial hemp perspective on things. I have for a long time been a huge proponent of hemp. I would prefer a very lush hemp industry as opposed to a very lush THC-rich industry. So, Where can people find out more about you, the WAFBA companies? How can they find you on the old Internet?
Morris Beegle: Well, you can go to wafba.org. That’s W-A-F-B-A dot org. That’s the launch page. All of our little entities are listed there. We actually have 12, that’s a half a dozen of those are events and then the other half dozen we’ve got Tree-Free Hemp, the paper side, Let’s Talk Hemp, the education media side, One Planet Hemp, our T-shirt and hat and merchandise store. I don’t know. I can’t even remember all the little brands that we’ve got now. But we’ve got quite a few and that’s where you can find it. You can also go to morrisbeegle.com and I’ve got a lot of links there as well. You can go to nocohempexpo.Com.
That’s what people, if you want to find out really what’s happening in the hemp industry, if you do get a chance you should come to NoCo Hemp Expo, especially NoCo Seven that’ll be in 2020. We’re moving to a brand-new space that’s three times where we were at last year where we packed it out with 10,000 people. Next year we hope to have 20,000-plus and we’ll have 400-plus exhibitors and great programming for the business side, the investor side, the farm side, the equipment side. We’re just really excited to do what we can to help facilitate this industry and bring people together and make it real and make a difference.
TG Branfalt: That’s Morris Beegle. He’s a hemp industry entrepreneur, co-founder and president of the WAFBA, We Are For Better Alternatives, family of companies, which includes that aforementioned NoCo Hemp Expo. Thank you so much for being on the show, Morris. It’s really been a pleasure.
Morris Beegle: Hey. Thanks, TG. I appreciate you having me on.
TG Branfalt: You can find more episodes of The Ganjapreneur.com Podcast in the podcast section of ganjapreneur.com and in the Apple iTunes store. On the ganjapreneur.com website, you will find the latest cannabis news and cannabis jobs updated daily along with transcripts of this podcast. You can also download the ganjapreneur.com app in iTunes and Google Play. This episode was engineered by Trim at Mediahouse. I’ve been your host, TG Branfalt.