Industrial hemp farming is becoming a trendy topic amongst farmers. While some are looking to try something new, others are looking for something more lucrative.
The 2018 Farm Bill made it legal for farmers to grow industrial hemp in the U.S. Montana, Colorado, Oregon, Kentucky, and Tennessee are the leaders in U.S. industrial hemp cultivation. To grow hemp in any state, you will need to become licensed as a hemp grower in your respective state.
What is a Hemp Plant and How is it Grown?
Here’s a 5-minute video featuring Jesse Tischauser of Herb’s Herbs Hemp Farm.
Ideal Growing Conditions
The first factor to consider when growing industrial hemp is the growing conditions. Hemp can grow well in different climates, however, the ideal climate for growing industrial hemp is warm and dry with at least 25-30mm of rainfall during the growing period. If your farm gets more or less rainfall than that, you will need to set up an irrigation system.
You will also need well-drained soils that are rich in organic material such as loam soils, which are great for hemp cultivation. You can also improve the quality of your soil simply by adding organic matter to it.
One must also consider the amount of minerals, such as elemental sulfur, potassium, and phosphates, that are present in their soil. These minerals can be toxic to hemp plants in large quantities, but if there are not enough of them then they will need to be supplemented. For these reasons it is advisable to take a sample of your soil to a soil lab to have it tested. There, an expert can recommend what needs to be done to make the soil ideal for hemp cultivation.
Buying Farm Equipment for Hemp Cultivation
If you are growing hemp on a small scale (less than 50 acres), you may not need to invest in heavy machinery because the simple equipment that you have on the farm may work just fine. However, if you are growing industrial hemp for production on a large scale, you will need to invest in some heavy machinery. This includes bed raisers, transplanting machines, combine harvesters, decorticators, and more.
Buying Hemp Seeds for Cultivation
This is the most important step as it will set the tone for your entire cultivation and harvest. Note that high-quality hemp seeds are not easy to come by. Start by looking for them in your local seed shop, and by connecting with other industrial hemp farmers who can tell you where they get good seeds. Avoid buying seeds from unverifiable online sources even though they might have the lowest prices.
How to Plant Industrial Hemp Seeds
After getting your high-quality hemp seeds or clones, the next thing you’ll need to do is till the land. Prepare firm and shallow beds while making sure that they’re all built with the same dimensions. You can sow the seeds directly into the soil to avoid having to transplant them later once they outgrow their seedling pots. Also, make sure that the soil has been tested and that it has all the vital nutrients that will be needed for the seeds to sprout. The soil’s temperature should be at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In the U.S., this is most easily attainable between May and June. Lastly, the seeds must be planted close together with only 4 inches in between seeds, at a depth between a 1/2 inch and 3/4 of an inch.
How to Tend Industrial Hemp
After planting you will need to tend the plants until they mature. This means irrigating them frequently during their first six weeks of life.
Recently, the EPA approved 9 biopesticides and 1 conventional pesticide that may be used in hemp cultivation. If you are growing hemp in a pest-prone region, it would be wise to take advantage of this by using pesticides to protect your plants. Biopesticides are better because they are safer for the crops and the environment, but hemp is a plant that can do well organically since most strains have pest-resistant tendencies. That being said, you should consult with your local agricultural officer to determine if you need to use pesticides on your industrial hemp.
How to Harvest Industrial Hemp
Industrial hemp is harvested after 90-100 days. The seed heads mature from the bottom going up, the seed bracts will open up, and the seeds will have turned from green to brown.
Standard combine harvesters are ideal for harvesting industrial hemp. The setting on the machine should be similar to the one used when harvesting canola or wheat. You can also use a rotary combine harvester with a draper’s head. The best time to harvest is at a relative humidity level between 12% and 18%.
Once the industrial hemp has been harvested, it needs to be dried and cured in preparation for processing.
Hemp Processing Lab Virtual Tour
Here’s a 12-minute video featuring Brad Menard, CEO of The Plug Supply, walking you through what processing hemp for CBD looks like.