So, you think you want to be a hemp farmer? I can’t say that I blame you. I’ve been guilty of wanting to trade my law degree in for the Gold Rush myself. There is something about being able to grow and provide for your family using your barehands that is different from anything else. The Hemp Moment has moved me personally in the direction of sustainability. Hemp has been called “The God Plant” for a good reason. It is one of the most versatile historical plants that has ever existed. I don’t think it is possibly for the US to grow too much hemp, so welcome new Hemp Farmer, you’re in for an exciting adventure.
It is an extremely exciting time in history. The 2018 Farm Bill has opened up an area that has been virtually untouched for more than a century. Now that hemp cultivation is basically legal in all 50 states (click here to read more), there’s a growing interest in growing hemp.
Hemp is argued to be one of most lucrative industrial and textile crops you can grow. According to the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD and hemp are completely legal to grow and sell in the United States, creating a billion dollar market that is expected to grow exponentially.
Did you say BILLION DOLLAR MARKET?
Yep! According to Alex Seleznov, board member of the National Hemp Association, hemp crops grown for CBD could bring in $25–$35 per pound. Each plant will yield roughly one pound of hemp that can be used to source CBD, and with 1,000–1,500 plants per acre, hemp farmers could be looking at around $30,000 per acre of hemp.
On average, hemp fiber crops can yield about anywhere between 2.5 to 3 tons of hemp fiber per acre, which means after costs farmers can make upwards of $480 per acre in profit, according to Atalo Holdings. Much of the fiber market depends on industrial processing capacity, and at present, there is little in the emerging US market. Growing for fiber doesn’t seem as lucrative on the surface, however there are numerous advantages we will discuss in next week’s Ultimate Fiber Farming Guide.
Before we get started, you need to decide whether you plan on growing industrial hemp for its grain, fiber production, seeds or CBD oils. The process of growing it, from seed to harvest, is similar but not the same. All industrial hemp starts out the same but the key differences between hemp for fiber and hemp for CBD will be the timing of your harvest. I will explain these similarities and differences below.
The Ultimate Hemp Farming Guide
Knowing the laws surrounding legal hemp cultivation is a must. If the laws aren’t followed exactly the way they’re laid out by the U.S. government, your entire crop could potentially be destroyed.
Any hemp cultivated in the U.S. cannot exceed the 0.3% THC limit. This is the magic number that separates hemp from marijuana. If your hemp crop contains any more than this allowable percentage of THC come harvest, your entire crop (per U.S. law) must be destroyed.
You may also need to apply for a permit and register with your state as an industrial hemp grower. To find out if you need to register with your state and get a permit before growing hemp, check with your state’s Department of Agriculture. Note that shipping hemp and hemp products outside of your state is subject to federal laws and restrictions.
Hemp can thrive in most environments, the main exceptions being extreme desert climates and high mountain regions. The best growing conditions for hemp, however, are warm-weather areas with well-drained or tiled clay soil, rich in organic material. Avoid ground with excessively wet climate or soil. Soil that drains poorly is more likely to have crop failure and plant diseases. Seek ground with high fertility and low weed pressure.
It is advisable to get your soil tested before you cultivate your crop. Make sure to test for elemental sulfur, potassium sulfate and rock phosphate levels at the least to make sure they are not too high and, therefore, need abating before planting. For the most reliable readings, perform soil tests either late in autumn or early in spring.
The growing cycle for hemp for CBD is approximately 108 to 120 days, during which these growing conditions should remain relatively stable and consistent. On the other hand, Hemp for Fiber is ready for harvest approximately 60 days after planting. As soon as flowering starts, and before seeds are formed, the hemp for fiber needs to be cut.
There are several different genetics when it comes to hemp seeds. If you’re growing hemp for the purpose of CBD, the last thing you want is a variety of hemp that is intended for stalk and fiber. Make sure you buy the type of seeds you need from a reliable seller. You can find hemp seed sellers and compare prices at WorldHempEnterprises.com
Something else to keep in mind is that cannabis has been prohibited for years. This means that hemp seeds are a bit different than commercial seeds for standard vegetable crops (think tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.). While commercial seeds are typically genetically stable (meaning the seed will produce identical plants of the same phenotype), hemp is a bit different. Consistency might not always be the same, which is why it’s paramount you do your research before purchasing hemp seeds. A seed that yields 15% CBD and .1% THC in Colorado might yield 20% CBD and 4% THC in Georgia. Therefore, its a good idea to reach out to the sellers at World Hemp Enterprises and see where the seeds have been previously grown.
Sowing Hemp Seeds
Tilling the soil before planting hemp seeds is particularly vital given there are no herbicides labeled for use preparing soil for planting hemp. Prepare a firm, shallow bed for the most uniformity in seeding depths, not unlike for planting clover or alfalfa.
It is best to sow hemp seeds directly in the soil where they are to grow rather than starting them in pots and, then, transplanting them into the ground as they outgrow their pots. Grow in soil that is at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In most U.S. zones, this occurs approximately between May and June. This will help ensure seeds germinate and emerge quickly and grow into taller plants with a greater yield potential.
Sow seeds relatively closely together, as close as four inches, depending on the size of your growing space and the yield of your desired crop. Plant seeds around 1/2 to 3/4 inch in the ground. You will want to have seeding in 15-inch to 30-inch rows to produce 25 to 35 pounds per acre. Conventional seeding equipment is fine to use. Either a grain drill or a corn planter will suffice. Once the seeds are planted, it is recommended to roll and pack the soil.
Tending Hemp Crops
Make sure to irrigate your planted seeds sufficiently, especially during their first six weeks in the soil. Even though hemp plants are generally drought tolerant, they can be more fragile and sensitive to dryness in those early days.
The regulations for pesticide use in farming of any type are primarily federal in nature, though your state may have more stringent pesticide regulations still. Review complete lists of herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and other pest-control products permitted federally and in your state at theNational Pesticide Information Center.
Growing Hemp Organically
Hemp is a prime plant to grow organically since it doesn’t require a great deal of supplementary nutrition and is reasonably pest- and disease-resistant. Hemp’s growth also tends to outpace that of surrounding weeds, so it doesn’t require a great deal of cultivation by hand like other organic crops.
Generally speaking there is no need to obtain any special farming equipment for hemp growing. However, you may need special machinery for hemp grown for fiber, since hemp stalks must be processed differently. The problem is that this type of equipment might not always be available in states where hemp farming is not widespread. You can avoid the costly purchase of new equipment by contacting a company that will process your raw plant material. At World Hemp Enterprises, we provide direct contact and up to date information on hemp processing services closest to your farm.
After about 90 to 100 days in the ground, the head of the hemp plant is considered to have fully matured. As the period arrives, you will start to observe seed heads maturing from the bottom and moving upward to reach completion. Once seed bracts have fully matured, they expose the seeds they contain, allowing you to air dry them naturally. At this point, approximately 100 to 120 days after the seeds were planted (around September or October), the plant is primed for harvest.
As with seeding machinery, standard combines are adequate harvesting equipment and no other special machinery is required. Harvest only when grain moisture is between 12 and 18 percent, this will minimize fiber wrapping. Harvesting hemp is very similar to harvesting wheat. Cut plants immediately below the head of the grain. Yields for organically grown hemp average 500 pounds per acre.
To harvest hemp fiber, wait one or two days minimum after harvesting the grain and ideally until the following spring. Bale hemp fiber at no greater than 15% moisture in big square bales. Expect to yield approximately one to three tons of hemp fiber per acre.
Storage and Processing
Once you’ve harvested the hemp, cleanse all foreign material from the grain and prepare it for storage until the time you’re ready to process it. Make sure it is properly aerated immediately to avoid spoiling. Dry hemp grain to approximately 9% moisture. Best for drying hemp is a belt conveyor, though you can use an auger as well, as long as you run it slow and full. This will help keep seeds from cracking.
Growing Hemp for Profit
According to Cornell University, farming hemp tends to yield a profit of approximately $130 to $730 per acre. You can produce multiple hemp products for the market from a single plant by making use of its roots, leaves, flowers, stalks, and seeds. Growing organic hemp also expands the range of marketable products you can produce. Whatever your intended use for your hemp crops, it is wise to set up a contract with one or more buyers ahead of time so you know your products will have a venue for distribution. Looking for potential buyers? Check out our direct database at World Hemp Enterprises.
Start your farm the right way
Starting a hemp farm entails a lot of hard work both in and out of the field. However, the profit margin can be enormous if you follow all the steps correctly.