Hemp Farming 2020: 7 Things To Keep In Mind, From Planting to Harvest & Beyond

Hemp Farming 2020: 7 Things To Keep In Mind, From Planting to Harvest & Beyond

February 24, 2020

Hemp: The Legislation and Background

With the signing of the Farm Bill in 2018, our nation's roadmap for all things agricultural and foods related, many statutes were enacted in order to support our nation's most important backbone – our farmers and the agricultural industry they uphold. As the tides and economics of agriculture all around the globe change on an almost daily basis, every five years the US Government, with support from the USDA, revises the bill in order to provide continued support, structure, certainty, and stability to our nations agricultural community.

Most years, the Farm Bill isn’t something that’s necessarily heard round the world. In 2018, however, it was – and the reason behind the international attention was, in fact, hemp. Within the Farm Bill was legislation known now as the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, which affirmatively removed hemp, which is currently defined as cannabis with THC levels lower than .3%, from the Schedule I controlled substances list and thus reintroduced hemp to the agricultural community as a general commodity – much like grain, wheat, corn or dairy. 

For centuries prior to 1937, Hemp was a major industrial and agricultural commodity in the United States. It was grown and processed for uses in textiles, fuel and everyday items like rope. Even our military forces were using products made from hemp. However, in 1937, the United States Congress enacted legislation known as the Marijuana Tax Act, which made it increasingly difficult for farmers to turn a profit growing and processing hemp. Following this act, the industrial and agricultural hemp industries in the United States slowly fizzled out - margins simply weren’t available to make the commodity a viable crop for farmers, processors and manufacturers alike anymore. By the end of World War 2, the hemp industry had been completely crippled and farmers, processors, and product manufacturers were forced to close their doors for good.  

Luckily, we’re no longer forced to live in the era of cannabis prohibition – at least not completely. With state-by-state legalization of cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes, and decriminalization discussions happening at the federal level, it was only a matter of time before the government realized what a huge mistake it made in regards to hemp. With the passing of the Farm Bill, hemp was officially removed as a schedule I controlled substance and was reintroduced to the economy as a viable agricultural and industrial commodity.

 

The Hemp Industry BOOMS Once Again

With the federal prohibition of hemp coming to its end, the market has been reinvigorated and players in the industry are starting to sprout up all over the place – pun intended. The legislation brought on by the Farm Bill has paved the way for farmers, processors, product manufacturers and CBD brands alike to enter the market and make an honest living once again. With market size projected to reach an estimated $22B over the next couple of years, it seems as if hemp and other cannabis derivatives will once again reclaim their spot as leading staple commodities in the US economy.

Along the way to our rightful reclamation of market share in the agricultural and industrial commodities markets, there will however be many bumps in the road, and inevitably so – the industry is relatively new (at least to this generation). Many of the players jumping into the industry haven’t had the privilege to grow cannabis and learn from the many lessons it teaches us season to season. While some players in the industry have migrated from the medicinal and recreational marijuana markets, a vast majority of the players are migrating from more foreign industries – so to speak. Thus, as an industry as a whole, we have a lot of learning to do.

Hemp House Direct is determined to help lead the way in providing structure and guidance to farmers, emerging brands, processors and ancillary service providers to the industry – because together, we have the power to make the hemp industry in America shine bright and create jobs within our economy once again.

As we approach the planting season for a majority of farmers in the United States, we thought it would be helpful to pinpoint some of the lessons that many farmers learned during the 2018-2019 seasons and furthermore, provide some insight unto best practices as many of you embark on your first year in this ever-blooming industry.

 

Hemp Farming in 2020: 7 Things To Keep In Mind

From Planting to Harvest, and Beyond

To begin, we’d like to state that we won’t be able to cover every single topic that we’d like to in this blog post. If we did, no one would want to read the whole article, as it would be far too long. So, we’re going to touch on a few topics and pain points we saw most farmers encounter during the 2018-2019 seasons in hopes that it helps you prepare for the coming season ahead. Hemp House Direct has a full service consulting arm (for farmers, processors, and brands), and thus, if you wish to discuss any of the topics in relation to this blog or hemp further, please, do not hesitate to reach out. Our general consultations are free of charge and our door is always open. We’re here to help build a sturdy base for the industry to flourish from, and we want you to be a part of that base.

The following ten topics should be at the forefront of your mind as a farmer going into this year's growing and harvest season. We wish you luck and again, should you need any help, advice or consultation – our door is always open.

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Genetics – What You Plant, Matters

For many reasons, the way in which you start your season will greatly impact the fruits you reap come time for harvest in the fall. One of the best legs up you can give yourself is great genetics – whether from seed or clone.

Unfortunately, a good number of farmers didn’t do their due-diligence on genetics last season. For others, the trusted sources and information simply wasn’t there yet. However, as we enter the second legal year of hemp farming, the tools are at your fingertips and being prepared for a fruitful harvest will always start with the proper genetics.

So, let’s talk about genetics for a second. The first question you have to ask yourself is, what am I farming for? As a farmer, you have many options. You can farm for:

  • Biomass to feed the biomass and hemp extract processing markets.
  • Smokable flower and feed the retail market
  • Industrial strains for fibers to feed the textiles market and pulp to feed the paper markets
  • Seeds to feed the hemp hearts or hemp seed oil markets

As the industry grows, there will be more applications and uses for the derivatives hemp can provide us with. For now, however, those listed above are what most farmers are focusing on.

Let’s say you want to feed the smokable retail market with high-end smokable flower like White Whale CBG Flower or Frosted Lime CBD Flower. Ensuring that you source high-grade CBG or CBD strains, that are also compliant (THC < .3%), should be your number one priority. Where you get your seeds and clones from does matter – you want to make sure that you’re dealing with someone that knows what they’re talking about, operates a transparent business and has all of the supporting documentation needed so you can rest assured you’re getting what’s advertised.

 

When sourcing seeds and clones, you want to make sure that the plants have tested compliantly, time and time again. You can do this by viewing COAs, which clearly outline the cannabinoid content in any given sample. You’ll want to make sure the sample is homogenized. If these THC levels are higher than .3%, you’re going to want to find another source. Far too often in 2019, farmers planted acres on acres of hemp and grew a beautiful product, only to find out that their crop wasn’t compliant towards the end of the season. This is referred to as your hemp going “hot” when it reaches levels beyond .3% THC.  In most cases, these farmers were ordered and required by law to destroy their “hot” crop – dumping a whole year's worth of valuable time and money down the drain. You don’t want this to happen to you, so take your time when picking your genetics for the 2020 season.

For more information on genetics, contact chase@hemphousedirect.com.

 

CBD vs. CBG Strains

This section isn’t so much about farmers that made a grave mistake in 2019 as it is about following trends and always having your finger on the pulse of the market. In 2019, roughly 95% of the people growing hemp grew CBD strains – put simply, strains that have tested high in concentration of CBD. They grew these strains as demand for CBD extracts, like distillate and isolate, were on the rise in 2019. However, as we talked about earlier in this blog post, the hemp market will inch closer and closer to mirroring the commodities markets much like grain, corn, wheat, and dairy. Therefore, you want to find the areas in the market where you can fill a gap in demand with your supply. In our opinion, in 2020, some farmers are going to want to grow more CBG strains.

There are over 114 known cannabinoids in cannabis – both hemp and marijuana. As the industry grows and matures, we will learn more about these individual cannabinoids and thus, demand for each will increase. Currently, the demand for CBD is highest. However, in 2019, it seemed as if there was an over-supply of CBD biomass and products alike. We assume, after accounting for the fallout, that this year will be much the same. Therefore, if you’re looking to diversify yourself from the rest of the market and grow a crop that can fetch a higher dollar when it hits the market – we suggest farming CBG strains, of which, there are now many.

Hemp House Direct has many options available for you should you want to source your genetics through us. Our suggestion above is not to say that you shouldn’t farm CBD strains, we’re simply suggesting that farmers diversify their offerings to the market.  

Which brings us to our next topic…

 

Diversify Your Offerings

As the adage saying goes, you never want to put all of your eggs in one basket. The same holds true for the hemp industry, especially as a farmer.

As stated above, there are many different markets within the industry that you can farm for: biomass and smokable being the two main markets that most farmers go after. As also stated above, you can then farm for different genetics, meaning: high CBD strains and high CBG strains.

Furthermore, once you harvest, you also have a few options as to what you do with your harvested material. Let’s say you harvested CBD biomass: you can either sell the biomass to the biomass markets through a broker or a sales team of your own OR set up a tolling deal with a hemp processor like the Hemp Foundry and turn your biomass into hemp extracts. A tolling deal is a deal in which you and the processor agree to terms wherein they will process your material into crude, distillate or isolate and you can either split the output with the processor and sell to the extracts markets OR you can pay a fee to the processor for their service and you retain full custody of the output once extraction is done. Most processors, like the Hemp Foundry, offer extract sales as a part of their tolling deals, in which, you’ll pay them a commission to offload your extracts to the market so you can focus on what you know best – farming.

The main takeaway is to always diversify your offerings. You don’t want to put all of your eggs into one basket and have that go to hell in a hand-basket – if you catch our drift. By diversifying, you’ve given yourself multiple jump-off points for your material and can feed the market at different levels. The strategy of diversification should lead to increased profits and decreased stress when it comes time to selling off your harvest to reap the fruits of your labor.

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Know Thy Neighbors

While this isn’t the most important factoid we wanted to clue prospective farmers into, we think it deserves some attention.

Imagine growing 50 acres of hemp, spending all year tending to your crop only to find out that somehow during the flowering season your crop was pollinated by male plants. Meanwhile, you’re certain that you bought feminized seeds or picked all the males out of your acreage. Still, now your whole plantation has seeded and your crop is basically worthless.

A lot of times, this happens because of a neighboring farm. Not necessarily a mistake made by you. If you’re surrounded by other hemp farmers you want to make sure that you all work together to have a fruitful season. All it takes is a couple of male plants to pollinate a whole crop of females and ruin your hard work, making it much harder for you to turn a profit come time to harvest.

The best way to prevent an accident of this magnitude is to unite. Get to know your neighbors, get to know the other farmers in and around your area that are also growing hemp and start a community with one another. We believe that together we can achieve much more than we can alone, and this couldn’t be any truer when it comes to farming.

Not only is this beneficial to ensuring that a slew of male plants don’t pollinate your crop, but also, getting to know other hemp farmers in your area can help you all refine your growing techniques together, combine capital when ordering genetics to get better pricing, share machinery to keep overhead low, the list goes on.

All in all, know thy neighbor and we promise, the process of growing hemp will be much more rewarding – and hey, you might even make a friend or two.

 

Stay Away From Pesticides

This should be a no brainer but unfortunately, in 2019, there was a lot of product on the market that was flooded with pesticides and therefore wasn’t able to be sold or fetched a very low price in the marketplace.

There are a couple of ways for your plants to be inundated with pesticides, some more obvious than others.

First and foremost, don’t use pesticides or herbicides while growing your hemp. The cannabis plant is a very resilient plant on its own and when problems do arise, there are natural remedies for such problems. At all costs, stay away from watering your plants' root systems or foliage with pesticides. It will come back to haunt you in the end, this I promise you.

Another way in which your plants can become inundated with pesticides is if you have used the acreage you’re planting your hemp in for other crops in the past that were grown using pesticides. Pesticides can live in the soil for years and years, even when properly tilled and turned. Therefore, if you’ve grown with pesticides in the past, using the same acreage you’re using now, try and pick a different plot.

The third and final way that your plants can become tainted by pesticides has to do with your water table – basically, know your neighbors and know your water table and where the water is coming from. The best way to stay on the safe side of the fence is to have tests sent off for a ground sample and a water sample, that way you can be sure that you don’t have high pesticide levels present in your soil or water table prior to planting.

 

Watering & Soil: Best Practices

When it comes to cannabis, as we stated above, its an extremely resilient plant and can withstand a lot of pressure. However, there are certain things that cannabis will not tolerate and we’d like to help you avoid some of these easy mistakes to make.

The soil in which you plant your cannabis should be tilled properly and shouldn’t be too hard-packed. You want the water to be able to run away from the root mass after the plant has soaked up what it can handle for the day. You do not want your plants to get root-rot or waterlogged – two things that can happen quite easily if the soil isn’t properly prepared for cannabis. There are also many soil additives that can be added to your soil mixture that cannabis likes, but we will get into those at a later date.

When watering, you want to make sure you avoid a few easy missteps.

First, don’t water the foliage of your plants during the day when the sun is overhead. When you water the foliage during the day, the sun hits the little water droplets and can burn the plant VERY easily. If this happens, growth will be stunted and sometimes to a degree that the plant cannot come back from. If you are going to water the foliage of the plant, do so before sunrise or during dusk/after sunset to avoid burning the plant.

Furthermore, when watering your plants' root systems, be careful not to overwater. Cannabis plants don’t require a ton of water. Too much water and the plant can become water-logged which can then lead to root-rot and a whole slew of other problems.

The amount of water that your plant requires depends on the size of the plant, the stage of growth (vegetative or flowering), the temperature outside and the recent weather. Keep in mind that when grown outdoors, mother nature will sometimes do the work for you. It is best to water them lightly until you get to know your plants, the soil and the perfect amount of water they require.

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 Drying Hemp: Best Practices

This is an area where a lot of farmers go wrong, mainly because they’re unaware that the hemp needs to be properly dried in order to be processed, sold to the markets or put into the retail markets.

There are many ways to dry hemp, but only one of them has withstood the tests of time. That method is simple, and it’s called hang-drying. Basically, taking a well-ventilated, low humidity warehouse or barn, hanging the plants upside down and allowing them to dry over a 1-3 week period, depending on location, altitude, relative humidity, air-flow, etc…

Drying is a game of patience, it’s not going to happen overnight, so make sure that your buyers are aware of this. The day that you harvest is not the day in which your crop is ready, there is still at least two weeks of drying time needed before your crop can hit the market ready to sell.

Some farmers don’t want to wait 2 weeks for their product to dry, and we can understand that sometimes time is money. Unfortunately, trying to speed up the drying process by running the hemp through an industrial drying machine can actually degrade your product quite a bit. Industrial dryers take the moisture out of a plant in hours, not weeks, and unfortunately, cannabis likes to take its time. The drying process for cannabis is an ebb and flow of slowly releasing the moisture within the plant until it’s at around 10-15% moisture content. By speeding this process up, and running through an industrial dryer, you run the risk of degrading the cannabinoid profiles you worked so hard to develop throughout the growing season. An industrial dryer can take a plant testing at 13% CBD straight across the board down to 5-7% without breaking a sweat.

The last thing you want to do is take a sample of your crop at harvest and be proud of the work you’ve done only to run it through an industrial drying machine, lose 50% of the cannabinoids in your crop and have unhappy buyers that are no longer interested in your product.

Trust us when we say it – drying is a labor of love and time. If there is any time during the harvesting process to be patient, the drying process would be it.

 Final Thoughts

Growing cannabis, whether hemp or marijuana, is a labor of love. It takes time to learn the ropes and you get out what you put in. The best way to ensure your success is to join communities of growers, keep an open dialogue and always ask for help when you need it.

You’re growing a plant that can help so many people and creates thousands and thousands of jobs. Without her, there would be no industry. If you take care of her, she will take care of you.

If you have questions that weren’t answered in this brief yet long blog post, please do not hesitate to reach out. As stated before, our door is always open and we want nothing more than to create a community that believes in the power of many, banded together.

In the coming months, we will be releasing a “mastermind” course for both farmers and CBD brands, to help propel our industry leaders forward with the correct information about this plant and industry best practices. If you would like to be notified of when those courses become available, please join our 2020 waiting list at HempHouseDirect.com. Until then, thank you for your time and attention. If this post helps only one farmer avoid a pitfall that so many farmers encountered this past year, we’ve done our job.

 Happy planting and happy growing!