10 Hemp Farming Tips For Increasing Profits
Ever since the 2018 Farm Bill relaxed restrictions against hemp farming, you’ve heard all about the big profit potential of this versatile crop. In fact, a research report by MarketsandMarkets™ found that the industrial hemp market is expected to grow from $4.6 billion in 2019 to $26.6 billion by 2025. Researchers from Brightfield Group have also estimated that farmers could earn up to $40,000 per acre of industrial hemp compared to just $1,000 per acre of corn. While the higher end of that range may be achieved by more experienced growers, if even a tenth of that number sounds good to you, then you may be wondering how you can start growing hemp for profit.
Hemp, like all crops, has its unique growing challenges. One of those challenges is that hemp farming in the U.S. was illegal for decades, meaning that accurate knowledge and experience are in short supply.
Is it profitable to grow hemp? If you are looking to cultivate cannabidiol (CBD) oil or cannabigerol (CBG) oil, the answer can be a resounding yes if you follow best practices. Here are 10 invaluable tips on how to grow hemp for profit.
1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!
As with any crop, growing hemp requires a big investment in time, money, and effort. Before you put all your resources on the line, make sure you know what you’re jumping into.
- Researching hemp: Learn everything you can about it, including its growing cycle, nutritional needs, cultivation, and the different hemp strains available on the market.
- Get advice: Reach out to farmers in your area who are growing hemp for profit and learn about their experience. You can also find great communities of hemp farmers online who are willing to share advice.
- Create a business plan and budget: Where will you plant your hemp crop? How many seeds will you plant? How much will you spend on seeds? Will you invest in any specialized equipment? You’ll need to answer these questions and many more before you plant your first hemp seed.
- Start small: Instead of risking it all by converting your entire acreage to hemp, consider planting just a few acres your first year. This will give you the time and space to learn about hemp and to see how the crop does on your farm before you invest a significant amount of capital.
2. Choose a Profitable Product
Hemp is a highly versatile crop that can be farmed for a variety of different products. You can farm hemp for fiber, grain, CBD oil, CBG oil, smokable flower, and more. Certain hemp products are more profitable than others. For instance, CBD oil can be very profitable and, on the premium end, can sell for more than $1000 per kilogram.
To make the most profit from your hemp crop, consider farming for the purpose of CBD oil, or even CBG oil. CBG oil is still relatively unknown, but early studies of the substance have shown that the oil may offer positive health benefits. Some industry experts are predicting CBG could be the next big health product, and it currently sells for an even higher price than CBD oil.
3. Choose Hemp Seeds Designed for Your Purpose
Search out hemp seeds designed to enhance the production of the product you’ve chosen to cultivate. For example, some seeds have been intensely crossbred to enhance the production of CBD oil. Planting these specialized seeds will allow you to produce more pounds of CBD extract per acre. That could translate into an increased profit of hundreds, possibly even thousands, of dollars per acre you plant.
At High Grade Hemp Seed, all our hemp seed strains, including industry favorites Berry Blossom and Cherry Wine are designed to produce high quantities of CBD pill. Our newest product, Matterhorn CBG was bred specifically to increase production of CBG oil and can produce up to 15% CBG per trimmed flower.
4. Choose the Right Hemp Seed Strain
Before you spend a lot of money on your first purchase of hemp seeds, consider what strain will be the most profitable for you. Most hemp seed companies provide a variety of hemp seed strains. Each strain offers unique benefits. Some are designed for specific growing conditions, others for particular climates, and some are designed to grow fast or grow in a particular season. Many strains also produce interesting flavors. Some drip in resin for extraction and some are bred for the aromatic flowers to be smoked and appreciated by CBD consumers.
Research all the different strains available, and don’t be afraid to ask seed companies for their recommendation based on the particulars of your farm and your goals.
5. Buy Feminized Seeds for CBD and CBG Production
Here’s a quick lesson in hemp plant biology. Hemp plants can be male, female, or hermaphrodites. CBD oil and CBG oil come from the flowers of female plants, which means the females are your ticket to a profitable hemp crop.
Male hemp plants can actually burn away your profit. Not only do they produce only minimal amounts of CBD oil (not even enough worth cultivating), but when they pollinate female plants, the females produce less CBD.
Therefore, it’s critical that you keep male hemp plants out of your fields. Even a few males can pollinate many of your females and dramatically lower your CBD or CBG yield. The best way to get as many female hemp plants as possible is to invest in feminized seeds. Reputable hemp seed sellers can guarantee an extremely high rate of feminized seeds (at High Grade, we’ve achieved a 99.8% rate of feminization), which will result in a high rate of CBD or CBG oil extraction.
6. Invest in Seeds with a High Germination Rate
Every hemp seed that doesn’t germinate represents the loss of potential income. Even if a small percentage of your hemp seeds don’t germinate, that could mean hundreds of dollars of loss per acre.
When you’re ready to invest in hemp seeds, ask for the germination rates for your seeds. A reputable seed company should not only have this information available, but they should also be proud to tell you. At High Grade, our collective germination rate for all our hemp seed strains is over 95%.
7. Diversify Your Products
Farmers understand the value in diversifying their crops. A variety of different crops can help you manage changes in the marketplace, extreme weather events, and even changing consumer sentiments. Even within the hemp industry, you can diversify your hemp crop to balance out risk.
For example, even if your main interest lies in producing CBD extract, you may want to set aside a few acres for a seed like Matterhorn CBG to try out CBG extract. If CBG becomes as hot of a commodity as CBD, then you could be one of the first farmers to market. Plus, the reliably low THC levels, even when left in the field, ensure you have a compliant harvest.
You may also want to experiment with different hemp seed strains. You may find that one strain grows better and produces more CBD extract for you. Additionally, different strains will produce CBD with unique palettes, which may attract different buyers for your crop.
8. Consider Using Hemp Plant Starts
Hemp seeds are best grown initially in a greenhouse for their first few weeks. If you don’t have a greenhouse infrastructure and want to avoid that rather large initial investment, consider buying hemp starts. Hemp starts are already germinated and develop a tap root – unlike clones which do not develop a tap root,, which means you don’t have to worry about seeds that fail to germinate or high wind conditions causing seeds to blow away. Every start is a plant already on its way to flowering in a few short weeks.
9. Hire an Expert
If you’ve never farmed hemp before, you may want to consider hiring an agronomist. Though an experienced and knowledgeable agronomist won’t be cheap, their services will help ensure that your crop is successful. The increase in profits, when all is said and done, should more than pay for their services.
An agronomist can help you:
- Test and prep your soil to make sure it is conducive to hemp growth
- Recommend the right equipment to grow and harvest your crop
- Advise you on the best irrigation methods and systems
- Help you design your rows for maximum cultivation
- Provide localized advice on regulations, certifications, licensing, and testing requirements to keep you legally safe
You may also want to consider working with an attorney experienced with hemp law to ensure you are following all local, state, and federal regulations.
10. Ask Questions
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Starting to farm a new crop is a big investment, no matter the crop, so arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. Talk to all the hemp farmers you know. Grab the ear of companies that manufacture specialized hemp farming equipment. Contact the top hemp seed companies and talk to their customer representatives. Tell them about your farm and goals, and ask for recommendations on the right seeds. Seed companies should be happy to answer your questions and to give you advice on how to grow hemp for profit.
Is It Profitable to Grow Hemp?
Yes, it is. We work with many farmers across the country who have been able to make a good living through hemp farming. Growing hemp isn’t easy, and success is far from guaranteed, but now you know some of the best tips on how to grow hemp from profit. If you start with the right principles, perform good planning, order the best seeds, and invest in expert advice, we think you’ll find hemp farming to be a profitable endeavor.
We want to answer your hemp seed questions and help you earn the most from your first hemp harvest. Contact us today.
Introduction to Industrial Hemp – Basic Production Agronomy
Hemp was once a common agricultural crop throughout the United States. Prior to the passage of the 1937 Marijuana Act, hemp was grown primarily as a fiber crop in the United States. The passage of the 2014 Farm Bill established a renewed interest in producing industrial hemp. Much of the interest has focused on producing hemp for cannabidiol (CBD). However, it should be recognized that there is still potential to produce hemp as a fiber or grain crop.
If contemplating hemp production, it is important to keep in mind that there have been very few U.S.-based agronomic research studies on industrial hemp since the early 20th century. Information from previous research is important and useful but may not always be completely applicable for modern production systems. Industrial hemp is an untested crop in New Jersey. Research is needed to provide data on planting, management, fertility, harvesting, and processing specific to New Jersey. As a result, production information gaps may be encountered in the short term.
It is important to note there are differences in production systems based on the end use of the hemp. This fact sheet will provide information for producers investigating growing and marketing industrial hemp. Industrial hemp grown for grain or fiber production more closely matches existing grain and forage cropping systems than that of hemp grown for CBD. Because we currently have no New Jersey-specific research results or production experience, the information provided will be based on information from surrounding states and the regions that have participated in industrial hemp pilot programs. The reader should be aware the information is being provided as guidance and will be updated with New Jersey-specific information once available.
Although industrial hemp production may provide an opportunity for New Jersey, it is crucial that producers carefully examine the market and accessibility of market channels as part of their overall operation. As is the case with any emerging agricultural product, limited data exists to quantify the economic feasibility of industrial hemp production in New Jersey.
It is extremely important to know how to market hemp and where to sell it. One of the most common reasons for not succeeding with an alternative or niche crop is from lack of research as to where to sell the crop and its potential value. It is recommended to first determine if there are processors or buyers in close proximity. Producers growing industrial hemp should also determine if there is any requirement to contract with a buyer in order to sell the crop. Keep in mind that certain contracts specify varieties to be grown and may also require the crop to be grown using specific production practices.
Legality and Permits
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture is tasked with developing regulations for producing industrial hemp in the state. These regulations will include creating requirements for licensing of growers, prescribing hemp testing procedures to ensure compliance with federal law, creating a fee structure for the administration of the program, and certifying germinating seeds and hemp cultivars if necessary. Information about the application process to grow industrial hemp in New Jersey will only be available once regulations are finalized as required under the 2018 Farm Bill. Until New Jersey State Hemp Regulations are finalized and the permit process is in place, it is illegal to produce industrial hemp in the state.
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) Requirement
The 2018 Farm Bill recently signed by President Trump removes industrial hemp and its derivatives containing less than 0.3% THC from the Controlled Substances Act, thus legalizing the cultivation of industrial hemp and the hemp derivative CBD oil. Federal and state law requires that the concentration of THC must be less than 0.3% in industrial hemp. By definition, industrial hemp is low (less than 0.3%) in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabis plant’s primary psychoactive chemical. When selecting varieties for production, growers should look for varieties certified as having
Cannabis sativa is a summer annual plant. It is a very photoperiod sensitive crop. As a result, flowering is initiated according to day length (photoperiod) not physiological maturity. Most hemp varieties initiate flower development when day length is less than approximately 12 hours. Hemp is mostly dioecious (male and female flowers occur on separate plants). Therefore, there are both male plants and female plants. Although some monoecious varieties exist, most cultivated hemp is currently dioecious. There are breeding programs to increase the availability of monoecious varieties. Different plant parts are harvested from hemp for specific purposes. Depending on the harvestable plant part of interest, (i.e. fiber, grain, or cannabinoids) male plants and pollen might be required for production, or completely unnecessary, or even excluded from production through management.
The grain (seed) of hemp can be used in numerous ways. As a dietary supplement it is very rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids compared to other potential sources. It is relatively high in oil content. Hemp grain processors produce a wide array of products including toasted hemp seed, hemp seed oil, hemp flour, and even hemp coffee. It is used as bird feed and livestock feed, much the same as soybean hulls are used today.
Uses of hemp fiber have evolved greatly since the late 19th and early 20th centuries where it was used primarily for rope and cloth. Today hemp fiber can be used in many products ranging from construction materials, concrete additives, and many other materials.
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is extracted from resins produced largely in female flowers. CBD is used as a health supplement with purported health benefits including pain relief, inflammation, and others. Much of the anticipated growth in the industrial hemp industry is expected to be related to production of CBD and related value-added products. CBD from hemp is thought to have numerous applications as a nutraceutical, pharmaceutical, or dietary supplement.
Types of Hemp
Grain varieties are selected for food and nutritional applications. Grain varieties have high protein, fatty acid, and seed fiber content and usually have lower CBD content. Grain varieties are often shorter in height, reducing the amount of biomass that passes through the combine and reducing wrapping in the combine. Grain hemp seed is thin-walled and can be fragile. The fragile seeds must be handled with care when harvested and transported to market.
Fiber varieties of hemp produce long fibers and increased biomass. Fiber hemp varieties are generally taller and favor vegetative growth over seed production. These types of hemp have a wide range of uses, including textiles, building materials, pulp/paper, and more. Ideally, producers of hemp fiber will have access to processing facilities nearby due to the bulk of the product and cost of transport.
Dual Use (Hybrid)
Dual Use varieties of hemp produce both fiber and seed, but not to the yield or quality of single purpose cultivars.
CBD varieties are currently the most lucrative for agricultural production and marketing. These varieties can present regulatory challenges when attempting to produce the highest yield of CBD, while keeping the THC within allowable levels. High CBD varieties are generally grown utilizing only female plants, as the combination of male and female plants leads to increased seed production and decreased cannabinoid yields.
Variety selection will be key to successful production of all hemp types for many reasons; one of the most important varietal traits is days to maturity (latitudinal adaptation). For grain growers, this is similar to how soybean varieties are selected according to maturity group. There are several considerations when selecting the correct variety for production. For example, varieties bred primarily for grain production could have significantly different maturity dates relative to each other, and therefore would have very different establishment dates for maximum yields and a crop that is harvestable with standard equipment. Producers growing hemp for CBD production or for dual-use production systems will likely require different varieties to maximize yields and other characteristics.
As we begin to have more experience with hemp production, we are learning that varieties are regionally-specific. Farmers looking to enter the industrial hemp market for the first time will need to understand varietal options that are available and carefully determine which hemp variety is most suitable to their production and marketing strategies.
Hemp grows best on a loose, well-aerated loam soil, with high fertility, abundant organic matter (> 2%), and a pH of 6.0–7.5. Well-drained soils are best, as poorly-drained, heavy textured soils, or poorly structured soils often result in stand establishment failures. Reports indicate seedlings and young plants are prone to damping-off, resulting in poor stands. Sandy soils can produce hemp with adequate irrigation and fertilization, but these additional costs will need to be evaluated with respect to production economics.
Fertilizer requirements are best determined by a soil test. Penn State has developed fertilizer recommendations for hemp. There is limited experience with hemp production in our region. Recommendations are based on the most current information available. In a soil with optimum levels of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), nutrient recommendations for a 1,500 pound/acre grain yield potential would be 150 pounds of nitrogen (N), 30 pounds of phosphate (P2O5), and 20 pounds of potash (K2O). Fertility recommendations for hemp grown for fiber at optimum P and K soil test levels would be 150 pounds of N, 20 pounds of P2O5, and 20 pounds of K2O per acre.
Hemp can be planted in rows, like corn, or with a grain drill, like a small grain. The seed is fragile and can be damaged during planting. No herbicides or other pesticides are currently labeled for hemp in the US. Potential production strategies to reduce weed competition include narrow row planting, high planting density, and planting tall varieties. If planted in wider rows, mechanical cultivation may be required when the crop is young to reduce weed competition.
There have been reports that hemp seed germination is impacted by a lack of soil moisture content at planting. This could lead to uneven stands and result in increased weed pressure. Hemp should be seeded in soils with sufficient moisture to promote rapid germination. Rapid germination and stand establishment are essential to out-compete weeds. There are many reports that seedlings can be weak and struggle to become established if planted in drier than optimal soils. However, once successfully established, plants are very hardy.
Earlier maturing varieties may be preferred for grain production, and in some instances, they may be desired for both grain and fiber harvest. Shorter varieties are generally chosen for grain production as this reduces the amount of plant material running through the combine and reduces plant fibers wrapping in the combine.
Recommendations for planting rates vary depending on end use of the crop. Planting rate recommendations are most always provided as pounds of pure live seed (PLS) per acre. Pure live seed (PLS) is the seed in a container that will likely produce a viable plant when planted. A review of planting rate recommendations for hemp grain production reveals recommendations from as low as 20 to as high as 40 pounds per acre. The majority of recommendations encountered ranged from 25–35 pounds per acre for grain. Planting rates for fiber production range from 35–60 pounds per acre and are generally planted in higher densities to promote vegetative growth and bast fiber development.
Good seed-to-soil contact is required to achieve the best germination rate of industrial hemp seed. A firm, level, and relatively fine seedbed (similar to seeding forages) should be prepared before planting. The range in recommendations for planting depth is for ½ to 1 inch deep, with the majority of planting recommendations falling into the ½ to ¾ inch depth.
Insects and Diseases
There is potential for disease and insect pest problems, but information and recommendations are lacking for New Jersey and other states. Like most plants, hemp is prone to insects and pathogens, causing damage and diseases. As the acreage of industrial hemp increases, the number of insect pests and pathogens will tend to increase as well.
Insect pests that have been reported to cause damage across North America include the European corn borer, armyworm, and grasshoppers. Plant diseases including gray mold (Botrytis cinerea) and white mold (Sclerotinia sclerotiorum) have been reported to infect and impact industrial hemp production. No pesticide materials are currently registered for use on hemp, therefore more research is needed in this area to minimize these potential challenges.
For seed production, hemp is harvested when seeds begin to shatter. The plants will still be green. At this time about 70 percent of the seeds will be ripe and the seed moisture is often about 22–30 percent. If harvesting is delayed, then grain losses can increase from shattering, bird damage, and lower grain quality. There is also a greater problem with the fiber in the stalks wrapping in the combine. Avoiding taller varieties can help reduce the amount of material going through the combine. Grain combines can be used for grain harvest and some recommendations have suggested settings similar to those used for grain sorghum. Hemp grain is thin-walled and fragile, requiring care in harvest, storage, and transport. Grain should be dried immediately after harvest to less than 10% moisture.
Harvest for fiber production in many ways is similar to harvesting forages. Forage harvesting and handling equipment have been reported to perform well without major modifications. One common caution that can be found with regard to fiber production is that any machinery with rotation, pickup heads, or rolling bearings can easily lead to hemp wrapping to the point where machinery can become plugged. Hemp cutting can be accomplished with a disc bine, a disc mower, or a straight sickle mower. Specialized equipment for cutting hemp for fiber is available from some overseas manufacturers. There are reports that swathers and haybines do not work well, especially with very tall crops, as there is a tendency for long stems to wrap on the reel.
Once cut for fiber, hemp must undergo retting. Retting is a process involving the use of moisture and microbes to break down the bonds holding the hemp stem together, enabling easier separation of fibers. Field retting is most commonly used where the hemp is left in the field to partially decompose naturally from dew, molds, and bacteria. This process can take 4–6 weeks depending on the weather and must be closely monitored. After retting, the stalks are dried to a moisture content of less than 15% and baled. A baler may be used to bale the hemp stalks, at which point the stalks are ready for storage.
There is no established technique for CBD harvest on a large-scale acreage. Research is needed to understand the best way to harvest CDB for large-acreage production. Currently most CBD production is on small-acre plots or in greenhouses. Harvest for CBD production can be very labor intensive. Harvesting hemp at the proper stage is critical for CBD production. The presence of molds and mildews will lower the value of hemp floral biomass. Current reports show the vast majority of hemp growers producing for the CBD market rely on manual labor to cut the stalks. This is accomplished most often with a machete. Once hemp is harvested, growers should immediately move the floral biomass into the drying facility. Slow drying with high airflow will cure the hemp flowers and produce a higher quality end product.
- University of Kentucky Industrial Hemp Agronomic Research. hemp.ca.uky.edu
- The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs’ hemp production fact sheet. www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/00-067.htm
- Cornell Hemp Resources. hemp.cals.cornell.edu/hemp-resources/hemp-growing-info
- Penn State Industrial Hemp Production. extension.psu.edu/industrial-hemp-production
- Williams, D.W. and R. Mundel. 2018. An Introduction to Industrial Hemp and Hemp Agronomy. Cooperative Extension Service Publication ID-250. College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, University of Kentucky. www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs/ID/ID250/ID250.pdf
- Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity, Congressional Research Service, June 2018. fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32725.pdf
- Cherney, J.H.; Small, E. Industrial Hemp in North America: Production, Politics and Potential. Agronomy 2016, 6, 58. DOI
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