Industrial hemp processing starts from the point of harvesting and is completed when the finished goods are ready for sale or consumption. This process may take weeks and therefore requires patience. If industrial hemp is not processed correctly then all the labor and investment that has gone into the cultivation may be lost.
Industrial Hemp Harvesting
Depending on the size of the canopy, industrial hemp may be harvested by hand or machine. The industrial hemp plant is cut from the base and the different parts are separated; stalks, flowers, and seeds. Industrial hemp plants are usually grown closer together to ensure that the stalks grow tall and remain soft.
Industrial Hemp Drying & Storage
After drying the next stage is drying the industrial hemp and curing it. This is a very crucial step as it prevents loss from molds and enhances quality.
If the hemp is dried too quickly, it is likely to retain moisture which may cause the hemp to rot. If it is dried too slowly it may dry out too much and the quality of the fiber will diminish. Also, if it lacks adequate ventilation during drying the harvest may be exposed to fungi and bacteria. When planning for harvest, a farmer should consider all these factors to avoid losses. Large-scale farmers may also invest in the hemp drying equipment to maximize efficiency and quality.
After drying the next part of processing will depend on what the industrial hemp will be used for. Industrial hemp has many uses which include the production of fiber, seed, and biomass
We shall look at every step below.
How Is Hemp Processed For Fiber?
Industrial hemp is a rich source of fiber. To create high-quality fiber, the industrial hemp plants must be grown close together to limit the production of cannabinoids in the buds while increasing the quality of the stalks. Once harvested the colas should be separated and kept aside so that the stalks can be processed for fiber production.
The inner core of the stalks known as the bast and the fiber is separated using a machine known as a decorticator. Another process known as retting is used to soften the fiber before it is separated from the stalks. Retting is done using water, chemicals, or a mechanical process.
Once the industrial hemp has undergone retting, it is dried to a moisture content of 10-15%. This process is very essential in ensuring the best quality of fiber.
How Is Hemp Processed for Seed Production?
Industrial hemp that is grown for the production of seeds is harvested at about six weeks. At this point the seeds are ripe and the plants have just begun to flower. The hemp seeds are usually harvested by a combine harvester if grown large scale.
Before harvesting, you must ensure that the seeds are completely mature and dry. The seeds are separated from the flowers and set aside to dry. Conveyors can be used to transfer the seeds. However, the machine must be run at a low speed to prevent damage, industrial hemp seeds are prone to damage. The seeds are then placed in large bins to dry before they can be processed further for oil or protein.
How Is Industrial Hemp Processed For Biomass
Once the fiber has been extracted from the stalks and the seeds have been separated, the remaining plant material is used to create hemp biomass. Industrial hemp is a big producer of biomass. This is usually seen as a waste product.
Hemp biomass is usually made into pellets and used in the manufacture of animal feed, oils or fiber.
The hemp “waste material” needs to be completely dried before it can be used to make biomass. If it is to be used in the manufacture of fiber it needs to be adequately retted to make processing easier. The next step is to “decorticate.”
Hemp biomass gathered from the dried leaves can be used to make teas. The dried biomass may be used as a source of fuel.
Industrial hemp processing requires time and the right equipment. If done appropriately the results are usually rewarding as the different parts of the plant have different uses making this a very profitable venture.