Hemp was one of the first crops cultivated in the world with records dating back its cultivation to 8000 BC. Until December 2018, hemp was an illegal plant in most states in the USA. The war on drugs led to the classification of hemp as a controlled substance under the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, therefore, it was illegal to grow it. In the 1970s it suffered another major blow when it was listed under the Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the act killed the hemp industry.
Before 1937, many American farmers grew hemp and the government encouraged the cultivation of the crop. In fact, two of the founding fathers of the USA were not only advocates of hemp farming but they were hemp farmers. Did you know that the first USA flag was sewn with hemp fiber? Hemp is a strong fiber and the longest fiber in comparison to other plants.
Hemp raw materials can be used to make over 25,000 different products including making bio-plastics, ropes, cosmetics, bio-fuels, animal feeds, human foods, paint, clothing, paper, and textiles among other products.
Is It Legal to Grow Hemp In The USA?
Previously, hemp was classified under the controlled substances and it was under the department of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The 2018 Farm Bill classified it under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agency which is supposed to issue hemp planting licenses to farmers but the regulations are still not in place. Meaning that farmers have to get licenses from their states to grow hemp.
Is Growing Hemp Profitable?
In the future, there is a possibility of hemp becoming the American staple. Since President Donald Trump’s signing of the Hemp Farm Bill in December 2018, there is a lot of excitement and interest from farmers across the USA in growing of the industrial hemp plant. Most farmers who were growing other crops like tobacco, wheat, corn, squash, pumpkins, and kale are considering switching to hemp growing. Some crops are under an economic decline and have low prices.
In the past, although hemp was illegal in the USA, most hemp-based products and hemp fiber were not illegal. Therefore, manufacturers and other dealers had to import hemp raw materials like fiber from other countries like China and Canada. In 2017, hemp imports like CBD oil, hemp seed, and fiber products were worth about $267 million.
In this regard, there is a demand for hemp-based products which include CBD oil, hemp oil, hemp seeds, hemp buds and among others. Since markets are driven by the forces of supply and demand, hemp is regarded as a high return crop which is contrary to other crops which have declining economic returns. According to Frontier Data, sales from hemp derivatives in the USA was about $1.1 billion in 2018. Vote Hemp expects the demand to double by 2022.
The Farm Bill popularized hemp among farmers and consumers which made the price of hemp go up slightly because the demand for hemp derivatives increased. The prices may stay at the same level even though in the future, the prices may fall due to market saturation as a result of an increase in supply. For farmers, hemp farming is more profitable. In comparison to kale, a pound of hemp sells for between $35 and $40 while a pound of kale is about $1 per pound.
Some farmers have made about $750 per acre from hemp alone, which is mind-blowing in comparison to soybean which they were cultivating which has an average yield of $150 per acre.
Hemp Farming on the Increase Since the 2014 Farm Bill Was Enacted
According to VoteHemp’s Hemp Farming Report, there was an increase in hemp farming even before the legalization of the crop. Before the legalization, the plant was planted under a pilot project using the 2014 Farm Bill regulations. In 2016, over 9,600 acres were planted and in 2017, about 78,000 acres of land was dedicated to hemp growing.
Challenges Facing Hemp Farmers
Like cultivation of other crops, a hemp farmer wants to maximize yields. But before yield maximization, they must learn the science of crop production. Since hemp is a new crop in the USA, farmers have no experience in growing it. Therefore, it forces farmers to learn through experience and making errors on the go. They will fill the knowledge gaps with time. Farmers are learning the techniques of growing hemp for fiber, seed or for CBD oil.
As such, farmers getting into hemp farming have many questions about growing hemp. Most farmers don’t know what they are supposed to do from the time the seeds are planted until the crop harvesting. Some of the questions that hemp farmers ask include:
- Which is the best soil to grow hemp?
- How to grow hemp for fiber, seeds, CBD, clothing, etc?
- Which seed varieties to use?
- How to grow hemp profitably?
- Which weeds and insects are likely to affect the crop? among other pertinent questions.
Some farmers experience a shortage of planting seeds since seeds are sourced from Canada and Europe. Knowing the right type of seed for your state’s climate is also a challenge since the seeds are sourced from other countries. Additionally, you need seeds with the right content of THC.
Storing of hemp products, especially hemp buds, is also a common challenge. Since most farmers lack knowledge on the management of industrial hemp plant, some have opted to work with processors. The processors provide hemp seeds and also control all farming procedures from planting to harvesting. Besides that, they buy the harvest, making it easy for farmers.
Prerequisites to Hemp Growing
1. Know the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana
Do you know that your supposed hemp crop can go to waste if you plant the wrong seeds which have a higher THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) amount than 0.3%? The law requires that a crop that has more than 0.3% THC to be destroyed. THC is the chemical in cannabis plants that causes a psychoactive effect. The Farm Bill clearly states that hemp is a Cannabis sativa plant with THC amounts of less than 0.3%. Therefore, when sourcing for planting seeds, you have to be sure that they are hemp seeds.
Whereas hemp is legal, marijuana is still a Schedule 1 drug. Although the two plants belong to the same family of cannabis, they are different. Unlike marijuana which is psychoactive, hemp is non-psychoactive. Marijuana has up to 30% THC. On the other hand, industrial hemp cultivation method is dependent on the purpose of the crop. Hemp has 3 main uses. These include extraction of CBD oil which is used to alleviate anxiety, stress and reduce inflammation. Secondly, the seeds are a source of food. Lastly, hemp is grown for its fiber. The fiber and oil can make different types of products ranging from bio-plastics, textiles, soaps, shampoos among others.
2. Follow your state regulations
Find out about hemp farming from your state’s department of agriculture. Confirm from the local authorities if there are any special permits and fees required to grow hemp. Some states only issue licenses to farmers who have no previous criminal record. Your plants will most likely be subjected to a test to ensure that the THC amounts are not above 0.3%.
Consult a research institution in your state on hemp farming and also work with hemp organizations, associations, and other hemp farmers. You can learn from each other and you can also get to know how to cope with the challenges.
4. Special Equipment
Ensure that you have all the equipment you require before venturing into hemp farming. You require special equipment if you plant hemp for its seed. As you test the waters, you can contract hemp processors after harvesting to avoid investing in expensive machinery. You can rent some machinery like seed drills from other farmers in your area.
5. Soil Testing
You should test the soil to know if it is conducive for hemp farming. Note the texture of your soil and nutrient content. You can get an expert to help you with the evaluation. After all, it is your first time and you won’t have to keep doing this in the future.
Hemp does well in a land with a pH of between 6.0 to 7.5, well-aerated loamy soil that has high fertility and organic matter. Sandy soils may require irrigation. Hemp requires various nutrients to thrive including high levels of nitrogen, moderate to high levels of phosphorus, and adequate amounts of calcium and sulfur. If you are growing hemp for CBD or seeds, you should cultivate the crop in non-toxic soils. Naturally, hemp soaks up whatever is in the soil through a process called phytoremediation.
6. Source Seeds From the Right Source
Ensure that you get seeds that are acclimatized to your state’s climatic conditions.
7. Purpose of the Crop
Hemp is grown for its seeds, CBD oil or for its fiber. You should decide the purpose of your crop before planting.
8. Find a Market for Your Crop
Hemp takes about 16 weeks to reach full maturity. Since the crop takes a very short time to mature, it is advisable to find a market for the raw material in advance so that as soon as you harvest the crop, you have a ready market.
How to Plant Industrial Hemp
Hemp does well in a warm climate. You should plant your seeds after the average calendar date of frost. Hemp plants require sufficient rains and in case of insufficient rains, irrigation is necessary. To control some pests, it is highly advisable to keep rotating hemp with other crops.
Spring is the best season to plant your seeds. Use a lawnmower that has a seed drill attachment to space hemp seeds evenly. The holes should be 0.5-1 inch deep to keep pests and birds from eating the seeds. You should sow hemp plants for fiber close to each other. This encourages the plants to grow vertically and not branch out. In the contrary, spread out hemp for seeds to encourage lateral growth.
Your plant should be well-watered during the first 6 weeks. After that, the crop can survive with little water. Your hemp crops require nitrogen fertilizer. Fertilizer application is ideal on a dry day. Then irrigated immediately for nitrogen absorption. In addition to that, spray herbicides after germination to keep weeds away.
Growing Hemp for CBD Oil
CBD is extracted from female hemp flowers. When growing hemp for CBD oil extraction, the CBD levels should be high while minimizing THC amounts. You can plant about 400,000 plants per acre. The crop is harvested like wheat when the level of CBD is high.
Growing Hemp for Fiber
A health stalk is essential when growing hemp for fiber. You should maintain the moisture content at 18% during harvesting. This allows the stalk to pass through a combine harvester while minimizing the loss and shatter of seeds during harvesting.
Growing Hemp for Seeds
On the other hand, it is not advisable to grow hemp for seed harvesting until you have a dryer for drying the seeds. You should harvest hemp seeds with a high amount of moisture than dry them within hours after harvesting. You will only make a profit from hemp seeds if you have a batch dryer and a seed cleaning mechanism.
Did you know that hemp produces more fiber per acre than cotton, and the hemp plant produces the most paper per acre in comparison to any tree on earth? Apart from the profits derived from growing hemp for CBD oil, seeds, and fiber, hemp is also eco-friendly. The plant mitigates the effects of global warming. During photosynthesis a hemp plant uses large amounts of carbon dioxide in comparison to trees, releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. In addition to that, hemp uses less water during farming in comparison to cotton.