The 2018 Farm Bill heralded a new age that brought with itself opportunity for more research and ushered in a different outlook towards medical science – as a whole. Thanks to the legalization of hemp cultivation and CBD production, the industry is now officially growing in leaps and bounds in the US – and the world over!
While the regulations on growing hemp is still a work in progress, it’s only a matter of time before hemp cultivation becomes one of the biggest agro-business.
While farmers grow hemp for various reasons, including industrial purposes (for their fibers) and for their seeds (consumed for nutritional purposes or used in making hempseed oil), growing hemp is now more popular for their cannabinoid extracts.
In fact, the overall CBD market value in the US is projected to cross $20 billion by 2024, according to leading cannabis researchers BDS Analytics and Arcview Market Research. According to another estimate by the Washington, DC-based cannabis researcher New Frontier Data, the total legal sales of cannabis in current legal states are projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14% over the next few years to reach almost $30 billion by 2025.
If you’re a farmer looking to make a lucrative business from growing hemp for CBD, you need to take a closer look at the finer details of hemp cultivation. So, here’s what you need to know…
Hemp Plantation – How it Works
According to estimates, hemp grown for its CBD extracts could be worth as much as $30,000 an acre – if you did everything right. Under the federal regulations, one can plant hemp over a 10-, 20-, 50, or even up to 100-acre farmland. Does that seem like a lucrative idea?
If you want to learn how to grow hemp, Know This: Hemp is one of the easiest plants to grow. It can grow almost anywhere!
However, if you’re growing hemp for its cannabinoid extracts, you’ll need a certain level of mastery if you want to attain high CBD-content, keep the THC levels below 0.3%, and ensure high-quality strains.
Moreover, if it’s CBD you’re looking for from your hemp crops, you might want to plant only the female plants – growing them alongside the male ones would increase seed production and lower the CBD levels.
Hemp farms, meant to be sources of cannabinoid extracts, typically grows 1,000-1,600 female plants an acre, with each plant given individual attention. Unlike marijuana, industrial hemp is harvested more like wheat. The tops are typically harvested for seed, while the stalk and other fibers are used for countless industrial reasons.
Hemp Cultivation: Sowing the Seed
Finding the right kind of seeds is still a bit of a challenge for wanna-be hemp farmers. Not all hemp seeds available online can ensure quality and the right proportion of cannabinoids, particularly ensuring low THC levels.
Seeds from Europe and Canada are usually what hemp farmers in the US utilize until their own farms can produce them. If the seeds aren’t acclimated to the US, this won’t be possible. Additionally, the seeds need to be able to yield healthy produce for your business to get anywhere.
Since you can’t fetch hemp seeds from your local feed store, where you can catch hold of whoever duped you, there is really no guarantee that the seeds available online will be genetically stable to ensure a consistent yield and low THC levels.
According to Michael Bowman, the founding chair of the National Hemp Association, it usually takes about a year for farmers to ensure they are getting quality and reliable seeds.
If you’re wondering who Bowman is, well, he is the person who authored the “Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill” and has also been instrumental in shaping Colorado’s hemp policy as chair of Colorado’s New Energy Future. Besides, his family owns one of the biggest hemp farms in the state. He has also served as a board member of the Rocky Mountain Hemp Association, Colorado Industrial Hemp Commission, the American Renewable Energy Institute, and the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance.
Nevertheless, if you fetch these seeds from in-state processors, as per your state laws, you can get a fixed price on them and work stress-free for the tenure of that season. Once you have entered into a contract with an established processor, you can start your plantation. This is ideally done along 40” rows on flat ground, with multiple 4-row tobacco setters, over 10 days.
However, there is no exact way or method of doing everything – when it comes to hemp cultivation. You can always find your way around and see what suits you the best.
Some planters keep the planting population around 1,000 to 1,600 plants per acre, while others exceed 4,000 plants an acre. This depends on the type of strain, kind of CBD content expected, and the deal you’ve had with your processor.
Planting is typically done between the 3rd week of May and the 1st week of June, although, planters who’ve done it as late as mid-July did not notice any bad crop that season.
Hemp Cultivation: Using Fertilizers
Using natural, organic fertilizers are the best way to go about it if you’re looking at all-organic produce. Nevertheless, there are different inorganic varieties of fertilizers in the market as well; none of which are registered for hemp cultivation, though!
Farmers have been using different kinds of fertilizers in different ways for ages, and no one can give you an exact idea as to which is perfect for your crops.
If you’re going for inorganic fertilizers, know that they do not contain adequate amounts of the nutrients necessary and they also don’t give you the best produce. They usually contain either only or a combination of different nutrients, like nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, sulfur, and other micronutrients.
Organic fertilizers, on the other hand, are made from mined rock minerals, and natural plant and animal materials. They include ingredients like manure, guano, finely pulverized fish, ground bone, crushed shells, dried and powdered blood, phosphate rock, and even wood. These are good for the soil and your crops – giving you 100% organic, GMO-free produce.
Hemp Cultivation: Best Conditions
Indeed, hemp grows almost anywhere. But it still requires certain conditions that we can consider favorable for its healthy growth and consistent cannabinoid content.
- Soil: Hemp thrives in certain types of soil. First, you’ll need to test your soil. You can do that by purchasing a soil test online or taking a sample of your soil to your nearby agricultural center for testing. Hemp grows better in soils with a pH of 6-7.5. For instance, fertile, well-aerated, loamy soil, containing rich organic matter, and supplemented with the recommended minerals, is great for hemp cultivation.
- Sun: Hemp plants need a lot of sunlight. So, plant them where they can get the most of it. Hemp can grow with as little as 6 hours of sun a day. But, over 12 hours of sun is the best for it. Always wait until the last wisp of cold wintery wind has blown over before sowing the seeds. Usually, early to mid-spring is right for most of North America.
- Water: Hemp plants need quite a bit of water. At least 20-30 inches of rainfall would be required during the germination and growth cycle. In places with low rainfall, you would need proper irrigation infrastructure. Its water requirement gradually increases over time during its cycle until it starts to flower. The optimum soil moisture needed for a good harvest is above 80%. While some use drip irrigation, others require daily labor to walk lines and fix holes to counter rodent attacks.
- Pest Control: Like any other crop, hemp too needs to be protected from pests, insects, and pathogens. Hemp is also susceptible to diseases, like white and grey mold, viruses, bacterial and fungal infections, root rot, and blight. While there are no registered pesticides for use on hemp plants, you should only use pesticides that meet the USDA National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances regulations. Additionally, to prevent disease build-up in your crops, consider a 4-year crop rotation. Keep in mind, no chemical pesticides are allowed for hemp cultivation.
Hemp cultivation: Growth Cycle
Hemp usually grows rapidly for the first 60 days. If sown in mid-June, you’d already see the varieties exhibit their distinct characteristics by the beginning of August.
Hemp cultivation for CBD needs a lot of manual labor. This is the time when you would have to attend to the plants and weed out the unwanted creepers from around them.
When the female plants reach their prime, you would have to check for male plants and weed them out as well. The presence of even a few male hemp plants in a field can pollinate an entire crop, leaving you with only seeds and reduced CBD concentration. You can check our list for best low thc free cbd oil.
That is why, many planters would tell you that hemp cultivation – if you want to ensure quality cannabinoid content – is far more labor-intensive than even tobacco plants.
Hemp Cultivation: Harvesting
After about 100 to 120 days of growth, the hemp is usually ready for CBD extraction. To ensure a healthy CBD concentration, the plants are generally harvested in mid-fall (October), when cannabinoid strengths are at their highest.
During this harvest season, the hemp flowers are plucked to be dried and cured.
Hemp Cultivation: The Drying Stage
During the drying phase, different planters employ different operations. Some go for mechanical drying, others for a more hands-on approach. No matter what, the process requires warehouse floors, dehumidifiers, fans, tobacco barns, sheds, greenhouse heat, and loads of racks.
There is no perfect or ideal way of doing things when it comes to hemp cultivation. If what works for you is both convenient and productive, then that’s your method.
If your plantation is in a hot and humid area, you will be able to get them dried up fast. If you get adequate sun, you’ll be lucky to get your crops dried within two weeks. But if the weather turns rainy, then you will need artificial methods, like mechanical dryers.
After the drying stage, the hemp plants are stripped of all the green material and run through a hammer mill. This increases your CBD concentration. Now your raw CBD hemp is ready to be shipped to the hemp extraction/processing unit to be extracted, processed, and readied for product manufacturing.
Stick to the Laws…and you’ve mostly covered all the bases
While the 2018 Farm Bill essentially made hemp cultivation and use of hemp-derived extracts legal, regulations are still governed by the states where the plantations are located. It’s up to each individual state to make and enforce their own policy regarding hemp cultivation. So, if you want to grow hemp, you’ll want to check the laws established in your state.
Click here for more information on State Industrial Hemp Statutes.
Plenty of farmers’ support firms are in the market, offering hemp processing contracts, seeds, fertilizers, and all other related services for planters in most parts of the US. You can look them up online.
Lastly, we would remind you that starting a hemp farm is a demanding and challenging job – both on and off the farms.
However, if you’re careful and apply due diligence every step of the way, the profit margin makes it all worth it!
Happy Hemp Farming!