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The 411 On Hemp Farming: What You Need To Know Before Starting A Hemp Farm
In less than a decade, hemp has gone from a criminalized crop to one of the most profitable plants on the planet. Indeed, just one year after the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, US industrial hemp cultivation was valued at $4.5 billion. As demand for this versatile crop increases, financial experts estimate the hemp industry could be worth $26.5 billion. With figures like these, it’s no wonder farmers of all skill levels are interested in setting up a hemp farm.
Although hemp is a reasonably forgiving plant, it does present a few challenges that potential farmers need to know about. The most significant problem with growing hemp is that there are no standards. Since hemp has only recently been decriminalized, farmers are only beginning to re-learn how to cultivate it. New growers need to be willing to experiment and connect with other hemp farmers for the best chance of success.
To help you achieve your hemp growing goals, we’re going to share some of the most important tips related to hemp cultivation. By the time you finish reading this post, you should understand what it takes to run a successful hemp farm.
How To Grow Hemp: What You Should Know Before Setting Up A Hemp Farm
Is Hemp Legal To Grow In Your State?
Federally, the cultivation of hemp has been legal since the passage of the 2018 US Farm Bill. That doesn’t mean, however, that every state tolerates hemp farming.
Indeed, the 2018 Hemp Bill allows each state to make decisions regarding local hemp cultivation. So, before you start sowing your hemp seeds, you should look into your state’s regulations and ensure you’re staying well within the law.
No matter what state you’re growing hemp in, all of your plants must contain no more than 0.3 percent THC. If lab results reveal your hemp has above this THC threshold, then your hemp will technically be considered illegal.
What Kind Of Hemp Are You Growing?
After addressing your state’s legal issues, you must ask yourself what kind of hemp you want to cultivate. Namely, are you going to grow hemp for industrial purposes (e.g., fiber) or CBD extraction?
There are many significant differences between high-CBD hemp and industrial hemp cultivation. For starters, high-quality CBD hemp must be feminized to produce the maximum cannabinoid count. High-CBD hemp also requires more hands-on maintenance compared with industrial hemp.
People who grow CBD hemp must space their plants out more than industrial hemp. Usually, high-CBD hemp farmers can plant about 1,000 plants per acre, but industrial hemp farmers should aim for 400,000 plants per acre.
Having a clear understanding of how your hemp will be used can help you create a more successful cultivation plan.
What Are The Best Conditions For Growing Hemp?
Although hemp can’t survive in harsh desert climates or on mountainous peaks, it is fairly forgiving in temperate and Mediterranean climates. Hemp performs best when there’s plenty of warmth and sunshine, as well as about 20 – 30 inches of rainfall per growing cycle.
Another feature to keep in mind is that hemp seeds love well-drained soil. Planting your hemp seeds in areas with poor drainage will not lead to a good crop. Use a nutrient-dense, organic soil that’s airy for the best results.
Before growing your hemp, it’s a good idea to have your soil thoroughly tested to see if your farm is suitable for cultivation. Currently, most farmers recommend a soil pH level in the 6 – 6.5 range for hemp plants. In terms of nutrients, hemp loves heavy doses of nitrogen and moderate doses of phosphorus and potassium.
When you’re reading your soil test results, be sure to check out the potassium sulfate, rock phosphate, and sulfur rates. You want all of these chemicals to be as low as possible for the best chance of hemp growth.
Also, be forewarned that hemp is good at leaching toxic chemicals from the earth. Indeed, some farmers use this feature to their advantage to help purify contaminated soil. If you’re growing hemp for human consumption, you need to ensure there are no traces of potentially hazardous compounds on your hemp farm.
What’s The Best Way To Sow Hemp Seeds?
Most farmers claim it’s best to sow hemp seeds directly into the soil rather than transplanting hemp plants from pots. Although it’s possible to use untilled soil, we recommend tilling your soil beforehand for a healthy crop.
Before you plant your hemp seeds, you should wait for the final frost in your climate zone. Your soil should have an average temp of 50° F. In most areas of the USA, you’ll begin sowing your hemp seeds between May and June.
When it comes time to sow your seeds, try to place them between ½ – ¾ inches deep in rows at least 15-inches apart. Once your hemp seeds are all in the ground, you should roll and pack your soil. Most farmers have no issues using standard seeding machinery (e.g., grain drills or corn planters) to sow their hemp seeds.
How Much Water Does Hemp Need?
When it comes to hemp’s water requirements, the tentative consensus is between ;20 – 30 inches of rainfall during a growth cycle. If you live in an area that doesn’t get that much precipitation, then you’ll need to properly irrigate your crop.
Regular watering is most significant during the early stages of hemp’s development, especially in the first six weeks. As hemp matures to the flowering stage, it tends to require less daily water intake.
Just be careful never to overwater your hemp plants. Remember, this plant loves well-aerated soil with proper drainage. Too much water will create significant issues for your developing hemp plants.
Please note: hemp that gets caught in drought conditions could begin flowering earlier in the growing season. If hemp faces a considerable amount of stress, it will seek to reproduce as quickly as possible, which will lead to a poor crop.
Pests & Weeds: Hemp’s Worst Enemies
Unfortunately, there are many pests out there who would love to munch on your hemp plants. One of the most common bugs that can cause massive trouble for hemp growers is the European corn borer. A few fungi that are attracted to hemp crops include Pythium and Fusarium, both of which also have an affinity for soybeans and wheat.
Another issue some farmers have with growing hemp is weed competition. Even though cannabis is commonly called “weed,” it’s not invulnerable to weed species that will compete with your hemp plants.
Currently, there are no hemp-approved pesticides or herbicides on the market. Remember, companies have not been studying hemp for decades, so it will take time before these chemicals become available for farmers.
In the meantime, agronomists recommend using crop rotation to help decrease the likelihood of attracting pests to your hemp plantation. Alfalfa appears to be a particularly good crop to rotate with hemp. Unlike wheat, corn, or soy, the alfalfa plant seems to be less susceptible to the types of pests that are most attracted to hemp.
Alternatively, you could try planting “companion crops” with your hemp seed as an all-natural pest repellent. For instance, some gardeners use herbs like basil, sage, and peppermint as pest deterrents.
In terms of minimizing weed growth, some farmers recommend planting hemp closer together to increase shade cover. Greater shade makes it more difficult for pesky weeds to outcompete hemp plants. You should also ensure your seed has a low susceptibility to weed pressure before planting your hemp seeds.
When Should You Harvest Hemp?
In general, hemp takes between 108 – 120 days to complete its growing cycle. Keep in mind that hemp is a photoperiod plant, which means it will only flower when the average daily light decreases.
Once again, the type of hemp you’re cultivating plays a significant role in determining when to harvest. High-CBD hemp should only be harvested when the flowers have reached full bloom (about 108 days). Hemp plants that are grown exclusively for fiber, however, could be collected during early bloom.
Although many farmers use rotary combines to harvest their hemp, please recognize that hemp fiber tends to wrap in harvesting equipment. Also, since hemp genetics have yet to be stabilized, you’ll often notice a wide variety of heights in your final crop, which can make setting your combine rather tricky.
The best thing you could do to prevent fiber wrapping is to use a draper header. As for setting your harvest combine, most farmers treat hemp similar to canola.
After you’ve harvested your hemp, it’s time to start the drying process. Although cultivators have many different opinions on the “best” method to use, belt conveyors seem to be the most reliable.
At this time, it isn’t easy to give a precise estimate for your hemp farm’s expected yield. However, if you need an estimate, many hemp farmers report a return of about 700 lbs. of hemp grain per acre.
Is A Hemp Farm Worth Your Investment?>
There’s still a great deal we don’t know about proper hemp cultivation. Farmers interested in this crop have to be willing to experiment and document different techniques to find what works best for them. Thankfully, it’s far easier for cultivators to share information online. Plus, since hemp is in such high demand, many of the world’s top universities are pouring money into hemp research.
Growing hemp will require discipline, patience, and a willingness to experiment. If you’re unsure whether this investment is right for your farm, consider planting one acre of hemp and tracking your progress. Just be sure to work with companies that have a proven track record of success, especially when sourcing seeds.