There are many uses for hemp and many methods to farm hemp. We are producing hemp with high CBD for medicinal use. Hemp is also grown for fiber, seed oil, seed for food and the hurd in the stocks can be used for animal feed and bedding. Hemp seed is a complete food and a great source for protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. There are many other uses, such as hemp concrete, bio fuels, rope and paper – just to name a few. Know that all hemp is referred to as “Industrial Hemp” but growing hemp for CBD is very different than growing it for fiber, paper and bio-fuels.
The market for your hemp will determine the seed or clones you will need and how you will plant your fields. It is not nessary to have High CBD levels if you are growing for seed, oil, paper, fiber, or bio fuels and it would be best to grow field style, similar to corn or wheat. Plants growing close together will offer tall straight stalks with the seed heads at the top of the plant for easy harvest. Plants grown for CBD will be grown as bushes with heavy flower filling as many branches as possible. Topping each plant will produce more branches to create more flowers – similar to pinching tomatoes for larger production. Also these plants should be 10% to 18% CBD in combination with CBDA, CBG and the other 140+ cannabinoids and 500+ active phyto-chemicals in hemp.
In Colorado, all hemp grows need to be registered with the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDOA) and all hemp plants must be lower than .3% THC dry weight to qualify as hemp. CDOA will do their own sampling and lab evaluation, which you will pay them for. If you are in another state, Check with your local Department of Agriculture as some states have different rules. The ratio of THC to CBD is very low in Industrial Hemp and the CBD blunts the effects of the THC – this is why hemp is non-psychoactive. Please understand how critical it is to have plants that test below the .3% THC levels. If the THC levels are higher you are required to destroy your crop.
Hemp is very efficient in pulling toxins out of the soil. Because of this it is important to have organic or chemical free soils. If you have pesticides or chemicals in your plant matter it may be hard to sell, especially if you are growing hemp for medicinal use. When the flowers are processed and turned into oil, it condenses and becomes very potent. Any chemicals, herbicides and insecticides will be absorbed and concentrated in the oil. Almost anyone buying a decent amount of High CBD hemp oil will run a chemical and residuals panel and will drop the price paid for the oil or flower dramatically if chemicals show up. The oil can still be used, but will need to be further refined by distillation to remove the unwanted chemicals – a very labor intensive and expensive process.
Water is essential for keeping these plants healthy. They don’t need a lot of water but do need about 5 to 8 gallons per week per plant. This may vary depending on soil conditions. So if you have water rights and only receive water two or three times per Summer, it will he hard to keep your plants heathy. Also a word of caution here – if your plants become stressed it can drive the THC levels up and possibly over the .3%.
We started to grow hemp in 2015 starting with 5 acres planted with computer controlled drip lines. This method is very good to conserve water while effectively keeping the plants properly hydrated and fed. In 2016, we added the equipment to lay plastic mulch for holding moisture in the ground and keeping the weeds down. We also purchased a vegetable transplanter to plant the clones on a larger scale. In 2017 we added farm ground by converting our pivot sprinkler to a drip system utilizing “Dragon-Line”. We have three greenhouses for propagating and growing our mother plants, start seedlings and grow out clones. Growing hemp can be a very costly or prosperous adventure!
Beware of partnerships – many times farmers are approached to crop share. Often it is suggested they will provide the seed and you provide the land and water. Sometimes they will offer labor as well. We have not had the best of luck with this. But if you choose to partner with someone, have a solid contract. Have penalties for non-performance. Ask for labs on any seeds or clones they want to plant. Or better yet get tissue or flower samples and do your own testing. Our first year I am sure we planted wild seed from Nebraska, yet we told by our parters they had genetically developed them. Trust no one on face value, there are too many sad stories and hard lessons in this industry. We have experienced this too many times.
Start small, five acres is a huge project! Weeding is time consuming for the first 6 to 8 weeks until the plants are large enough to shade the ground. We are using 6’ row spacing, with the plants about 30” apart. While the plants are smaller, we can drive a lawn mower down the rows to control weeds, spray and tend the crop. It also helps to keep the weeds down. Some people will not have the luxury of plenty of land to space rows further apart. Keep in mind this is a very labor intensive crop and very similar to vegetable farming. This is not the standard for the industry. Most would suggest 4’ spacing and 4’ to 5’ centers.
For harvesting, we are still using tree lopers to cut down our plants and then hanging them to dry in our barn. We are then hand stripping them and put the flower in nylon totes. This is still the biggest challenge is harvest and drying. There are now specially built heavy duty Hemp Harvesting equipment for most of the operations for harvesting in the Fall. Dryers are now available instead of hanging the plants and machines to strip the plants. You will probably loose a small amount of CBD, but really save on labor. There are ways to adapt a combine to separate the stock from the flower once the plants are dry. A regular combine will trash your crop! Our operation is small enough that we are still going to hand cut and dry our plants. Regular combines and cutters have been used for harvest – but these plants are so tough the machines can get hot and catch on fire – a good way to trash equipment.
Planting machines are now available to plant 50 acres a day using seed starts, it’s impressive to watch. They use paper bio- degradable pods and the machine sows it in rows. Many are sowing seeds in the ground, I don’t know how they did this year.
Hemp farming can be very profitable but this is not a get rich business. We hear all the time about how you can make millions of dollars. I am sure some do but you have to have deep pockets to achieve these goals.
Hemp Farming Checklist
Go to Colorado Dept. of AG – their website is very informative.
Have adequate water available. Plants will use about 7 gallons each a week.depending on whether and size of plants.
Know how you are going to irrigate plants. Drip is best, pivot-sprinkler or gated ground water can work
Weeds are had to control, and finding workers to weed is difficult to impossible!
Find quality seeds or clones. (Ask for Lab testing to ensure your are receiving the quality you are paying for.)
Register you’re grow with the state Colorado Department of Ag.
Have harvest plan and drying area.
Budget for help or ask family and friends to help.
Attend as many hemp conferences as you can to learn and network.
, in, , (2017 Hemp Harvest Report – note Seeds that went “Hot”)
Sales – be aware that when you sign up for CDOA it is public record who is growing hemp. You will be receiving calls and emails to purchase and process your hemp.
The Colorado Dept of Ag has a list of plants that go hot. (When plants test over the .03 % THC this term is Hot)
Other Ideas we have opened our minds to look at for future farming operations are listed below.
Equipment is coming to help with harvest and flower striping machine produced by Hemp Harvest Works. We are looking at the Powell Model 6027 for future harvesting. Equipment is handled by Bish Equipment Zone.
No till farming – there are many videos on you tube showing no till farming practice. I love the idea and believe it is the best way to improve the soil and water conservation. This method also creates an environment for beneficial bugs and micro organisms to live. At the NOCO conference this year a speaker, Anne Brown from the Rodale Institute has many years of research and is worth looking at-(RodaleInstitute.org) Also Soil Heath is another information source.
We are actively researching a way to turn our processed hemp flower into a powerful soil additive for our fields using soil probiotics. The flower is not easily composted as it is very alkaline and sterilized by the alcohol we process with – but we want it to go back to the land and not wasted. Some of the probiotics can even be used to control weeds while building the soil! We will keep followers up of this project.
Tissue Culture is another avenue we are exploring to replace clone production. It could be opportunity to make seeds. I believe the best way to plant is with seed stock and for large acreage it the only feasible option. Genetics for seeds are changing rapidly, they are getting more stable and better quality.
Rain Flo equipment has a mulching drip tape that works well. The also have a planter for small seedlings. There are videos on You Tube.
The Urban Framer shows a small acreage paper pot planter that is interesting.
There are commercial companies that provide similar services.
These are our thoughts and experiences. This is a trial & ere process and as most know each farm and water situation vary making every farm unique. You will have to find what works for you. Start small and work up.
We are sorry if we don’t get all your questions answered but hope this will give you a starting place.