Hemp 101: A Beginner’s Guide to an Emerging Crop
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Estoy de Acuerdo / I agree
Industrial hemp has been a hot topic in the news lately and rightly so. I will attempt to address some of the questions that I have been receiving regarding hemp production in this article to give folks a practical knowledge about this unfamiliar crop they may be seeing grown around the county. This is in no way an exhaustive look at industrial hemp production or the legislation behind it, but rather think of this as an introductory Hemp 101 course.
Hemp growing in Broadway Hemp’s Harnett County field.
Both industrial hemp and marijuana belong to the Cannabaceae family, which also includes hops. Marijuana and industrial hemp are varieties of cannabis that were developed by selective breeding for different traits. Marijuana is bred for its mind-altering psychoactive compounds; industrial hemp for its CBD oil and many other commercial properties. Marijuana that is smoked for the high usually contains at least 10% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or more. By law, industrial hemp must contain 0.3% THC or less. Therefore, THC in industrial hemp is almost non-existent and will not cause an individual to achieve a “high.”
Cannabinoids are a group of chemical compounds found in cannabis that interact with certain receptors in the brain. There are at least 113 classes of cannabinoids that have been identified; these include but are not limited to THC, cannabinol (CBN) and cannabidiol (CBD). Cannabinoids are mainly produced in the trichome glands in the flowers of the female cannabis plant. The presence of male plants during reproductive growth can cause female plants to produce seed and drastically decrease CBD oil production.
Many people ask me if they can grow hemp. The short answer is no. You must be licensed through the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services N.C. Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program. It requires a copy of a Schedule F from your tax return, providing proof of agricultural income receipts. Basically, you must be a bona fide farmer that makes a significant part of your income through production agriculture to become certified to grow industrial hemp. You must also provide GPS coordinates of where your hemp is grown and stored. Any hemp found in an undisclosed area, as well as having THC content greater than 0.3% may result in seizure and destruction of your crop by NCDA&CS and/or law enforcement. All requirements can be found on the NCDA&CS website.
Once a farmer has obtained a license, he or she must obtain plants or seed to plant in the field. At this time, the most common method of planting is from clones, or cuttings from “mother” plants in the greenhouse. Significant work is being done in our region to make planting from seed a more viable option.
Hemp is a very costly crop to grow with labor being one of the most significant costs. There are no synthetic pesticides currently labeled for use on hemp, thus making weed, insect and disease control very labor intensive. A great deal of time and labor is also spent identifying male plants in greenhouses and fields. As mentioned above, the presence of male plants will drastically reduce CBD oil production in female plants.
Hemp harvest labor is also very costly. Historically, hemp has been harvested by hand and hung in a barn to air dry. This is a slow and inefficient process. Many farmers are taking a more mechanized approach, using modified tobacco strippers and tobacco bulk barns for more efficient harvest and drying. Once dried, the hemp is delivered to a processing facility.
I would like to stress that ingesting industrial hemp will not cause a high as these plants are used for the specific purpose of CBD oil production and sometimes fiber, and are different than the plant strains that contain a high THC content. Do not attempt to sample or remove hemp that you may see growing in a greenhouse or field. This can be considered trespassing or theft and could be grounds for legal action by the farmer or landowner against any violator. For further information regarding industrial hemp or any other agriculture-related questions, please contact me at my office.
Mitchell Williams is Agriculture Agent – Field Crops and Livestock for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.
Mitch Williams Extension Agent, Agriculture – Field Crops, Livestock, Pesticide Coordinator Call Mitch
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Ohio hemp growers face heavy regulations, risky growing season
CINCINNATI — As the state sees its final few frosts, the buds sprouting in Nick Hice’s greenhouse are yearning to take root in his sprawling Warren County fields.
Every day, the hundreds of tiny tufts of green Hice is cultivating grow a little taller, a little stronger and by the fall, he hopes they’ll make a fruitful harvest. His second Ohio-grown hemp crop.
What You Need To Know
- 2020 was the first year Ohio farmers could plant hemp
- Hemp must have less than 0.3 percent THC to be legally harvested
- If hemp exceeds the threshold it must be destroyed
- 191 farmers were a part of the state’s first crop
While Hice only bought his farm, Natural Horticulture, a few years ago, he’s not new to planting or new to Warren County.
“I actually grew up about 10 miles down the road from here and my family had a garden center,” he said.
Hice, however, planned to go into business, managing that side of the family business until he started to feed a budding interest in a new kind of agriculture.
“In 2009, we moved out to Colorado and shortly after that I had an opportunity to grow cannabis for one of the regulated operators out there,” he said.
Hice said he spent a decade in Colorado growing some of the state’s first legal crops of high THC cannabis.
Then when the 2018 farm bill passed, he thought it was time for a homecoming.
“I actually specifically moved back here to grow hemp in 2020,” he said.
It’s was the first year farmers legally could grow hemp in Ohio.
Hemp is a species of the cannabis plant but contains low amounts of THC, the chemical responsible for the “high” sensation for marijuana users.
Federally, THC remains illegal though some states have their own laws relating to the plant. Across the county, processors can instead use hemp to make legal CBD products.
“As regulated as hemp is it’s not nearly as regulated as high THC cannabis is,” Hice said.
The strictest rule for hemp farmers is that their crop must be tested before it’s harvested to ensure it falls below the federal threshold for THC, 0.3%. If the crop fails, farmers can request one more test, otherwise, they must destroy the crop.
With that in mind, Hice applied to grow hemp in the state and the Department of Agriculture gave him the approval and along with 191 other farmers, he planted his first crop: two types of hemp planted across five acres.
Last fall, he sent a sample of each off to the state lab and waited anxiously for his results.
“Both passed the THC testing last year but they were right at the threshold,” he said.
Not every farmer was so lucky.
Last fall, the agriculture department had 20 samples exceed the 0.3% limit. They retested six of them and three passed the second test, but a handful of farmers lost everything.
“That’s not fun to hear about and it’s not fun to think about,” Hice said.
This year, Hice is hoping he can avoid that fate and give himself a little more wiggle room by harvesting a little earlier.
He also acknowledges that these risks and regulations are among the reasons hemp is not the only thing he plants.
Hice also grows high-yield produce like lettuce, carrots, peppers and zucchini.
“We’re flexible depending on what market develops more quickly,” he said.
Hice said the crops can both get their start in greenhouses until it’s warm enough to plant them in the spring and once in the field he uses a lot of the same equipment to care for and harvest them.
“It gives us that diversification and allows us to have some cash flow and some income while we’re waiting on that larger hemp crop to come in,” he said.
While neither field is the official money-maker at his farm, Hice said growing hemp is definitely closer to his heart. That’s the plant he spent years researching and growing for others so he said bagging his first batch of hemp on his own farm was its own reward.
“It’s really unfortunate that farmers haven’t had that opportunity to grow it for all these years so it was really exciting for us to move back to be part of one of the first crops,” he said.
Hice hopes regulations ease over the next couple of years as public perception around cannabis changes but for now, he said his advice to farmers is to remain cautious and flexible. The market is still new and so is the product, but he believes his experience in Colorado shows there is a way to make a living in this new industry.