Growing Hemp: Genetics, Seeds, Seedlings & Clones. Don’t Make These 4 Costly Mistakes!
Hemp is fast becoming one of the most sought-after crops for farmers, thanks largely to the 2018 Farm Bill, which made it legal on a federal level to grow the versatile crop. Consumer demand for hemp-derived CBD products is on the rise, in everything from oil to tinctures to edibles, beverages and pet products. It is also a rapidly changing and evolving industry. It’s a new gold rush, with people looking to get their share of the profit at every stage of the process. But it all begins with the hemp plant. But before you’re ready to put the first seed to soil, you need to know about four mistakes that could be costly for your hemp farming business.
In a recent article, we outlined the 5 Things to Know Before You Plant Your First Seed, a must-read for any farmer – new or veteran – before doing any planting. It’s a must-read that outlines the important difference between hemp and marijuana, and shares the five steps that will help get you ready for a successful crop. If you haven’t read it yet, go do it now.
As important as that information is, equally important is understanding what mistakes to avoid – ones that can end up costing thousands of dollars and your entire growing season. In 2019 the industry experienced an overproduction of hemp, thanks to farmers eager to plant the crop and cash in on the boom. Despite great consumer demand, there was a large surplus, with estimates of 65% of the crops going to waste.
That’s too high a risk for any farmer to take, so pay close attention.
WHERE TO START?
Planting your hemp crop – like any crop, really – starts with the right seed or seedling. In the case of hemp, this part can be tricky because there are a lot of factors to consider. Not only do you want to ensure a high yield crop, but also one that will meet federal guidelines for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels in dry weight. Right now, a lot of seeds are imported either from Canada, Europe or even China. Domestic seed production is picking up, but will take more time still before that’s a more competitive market. The seeds are developed in a carefully controlled environment, under specific, precise conditions. They are designed to product the highest quality crop, optimum amount of CBD with acceptable levels of THC.
Your growing conditions will impact how well the crop does. Things like soil composition, humidity, rainfall, sunlight may dramatically alter the plants. If possible, find a seed or seedling distributor in your region or in one with similar growing conditions.
Seed genetics will determine the crop’s heartiness and ability to withstand the environmental conditions of a specific growing region. Strong genetics will have a higher likelihood of resulting in a high-quality, strong crop.
Crops can be started from seed, seedlings or clones. Most farmers start their crops from seed because it is the easiest way to a good outcome. Clones are ideally taken from a genetically strong and desirable mother plant and grown in a greenhouse, then are used to start the crop. But understand that, since a clone is a carbon copy, if there was any flaw or genetic weakness in the mother plant, it will be present in the clone. The mother plant has to be kept strong and healthy.
Planting clones are the most stable choice, but are going to be the most expensive. They do remove some of the unpredictability that comes with using seeds. Right now there are no seed banks for hemp seeds, and since the crop was banned for so long, there is not a stable, reliable genetic pool yet. That’s going to take time. Right now, results are going to vary.
It’s up to you to research the option that will be the best for your growing climate – whether you use seed (domestic or imported), seedlings or clones. You also have to know the regulations for your specific state, as individual states have different regulations surrounding seeds, seed breeders, licenses and regulations. Ask to see testing results so you can make the determination of what will lead to the most successful crop.
As much as possible, work to eliminate any uncertainty that will crop up once it’s time to harvest.
4 COSTLY MISTAKES TO AVOID
No matter how you’ve chosen to start your crop, there’s more research to be done. In doing so, you will be able to avoid these costly mistakes with your hemp crop.
1. Not Having a Plan – Becoming a successful hemp farmer does not end once you decide which seed or seedlings to plant. With hemp, you have to look all the way down the production chain and determine your end-game. In addition to your growing concerns – a plan for weeds, insects, fertilization, irrigation and harvest, you need to know what you’re going to do with the crop. What is your plan for drying, and what facility will you you’re your biomass to? You need to locate your method of transportation for your harvest.
Securing contracts before you even plant will ease a lot of the worries of what to do come harvest time, allowing you to focus on growing a strong crop. Be sure to also line up testing labs (we’ll talk about testing separately). This information is especially important for first time farmers, but as important for experienced farmers. Timing is critical in hemp farming.A harvest that is left to sit for too long before being dried or moving to a processor can render it worthless. 2019 saw an excess which resulted in a significant amount of wasted crops, partly due to the failure to plan the next step – and the next step.
The decisions you make as a hemp farmer, every single one, needs to be driven by your end game.
2. Testing, Testing, Testing – Earlier we told you about the importance of obtaining test results on your seeds or seedlings, but the need for testing does not end there. All hemp crops must be tested. This isn’t just for quality and to determine the levels of cannabinoids – CBD – in the plant, but more importantly, to ensure the level of THC is below the federally acceptable level of 0.3% of dry weight. Testing is done on the first mature leaves and again at harvest.
Because of this, it’s essential to secure a reputable lab that can do the testing and provide you with timely results. Waiting until you harvest the leaves or crop is too late. Lab capacity is still limited, so not contracting could mean a delay, which could prove costly. Test results will be needed to verify the quality of the crop and that it meets federal and state guidelines. Failure to test could mean a crop that lays in waste. Be sure you understand what is acceptable in your state, as well as on the federal level.
3. Amount of THC – This is a biggie with hemp farming. Any hemp that you grow must have a THC level of 0.3% or less. That’s a federal regulation, not just at the state level. Any crop that has THC levels above that is considered “hot,” taking the psychoactive levels beyond what is legal, fringing into marijuana levels (which are 5-30% THC). And for crops where the THC levels are above 0.3%? They must be destroyed (or “disposed of,” if the level is above 0.3% but below 0.5%), leaving you with a significant loss for the growing season. And don’t worry, officials will follow up to make sure the crop has been destroyed, or you face a potential fine. Start by reviewing and understanding the test results on the seed or seedlings you use, then have the first mature leaves tested, and finally the harvest tested. Understand the factors that can raise the levels of THC, including plant stressors like drought, floods, too many nutrients and extremes in temperature. Having to mow down your crop because THC levels ran high is a financial hit that most can’t afford to take.
4. It’s All About Gender – Hemp plants are male and female, they have a gender. Farmers should take care to obtain feminized seed which will produce more female plants, and more flowers. More flowers will result in higher levels of CBD in the plants. (This would be a perfect time to insert some comment about females doing all the hard work, but we’ll let it go for now.) Plants that are left to mature longer will have more flowers, hence more cannabinoids, but require more labor when it comes time to harvest, and the drying time will be longer. Feminized seeds should be used to create the mother plants used in cloning.
Because the hemp industry is very much driven by federal and state regulations and guidelines, it is important to maintain all your necessary paperwork – all the required documents, licenses, inspection reports and test results. You will need to show proof when asked my any governing agency, and having your current paperwork in order will make that process much easier.
Because the hemp industry is such a rapidly changing landscape, it’s critically important to stay on top of new regulations and guidelines, on top of what’s happening on the business side of the industry. It can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be if you know where to turn.
There is a lot of information out there to help, but sifting through it all can be daunting. We’re here to help. WhereZhemp.com, in conjunction with CBD Wholesale Networks, is your resource for everything related to your hemp/CBD farm. We have a nationwide directory that we can tap to help your business, and we want you to be a part of it.
Let our team help.
To join our directory, visit www.wherezhemp.com or simply call 1-800-242-5917 to speak with one of our consultants. They will be able to address any business needs you have, and pair you with just the right resource.