How to Grow and Harvest Industrial Hemp

How to Grow and Harvest Industrial Hemp

150 150 Blue Forest Farms
hemp plant

With each passing year, an increased number of individuals having been looking to enter the hemp industry. With friendlier laws, better developed seeds, and more opportunities than ever before, there is no surprise that the industry has experienced such a tremendous rate of growth.

However, despite the incredibly wide range of opportunities available, you will only be able to succeed with the growth and harvest of industrial hemp if you are able to understand the art as a whole. If you are someone who is considering entering the hemp industry, it is very important that you begin to do your research, know which options are available, and pay attention to all of the important details that are involved along the way.

In this article we will discuss the most important things to know when growing and harvesting industrial hemp, answer some frequently asked questions, and provide some useful advice that can help you succeed. With a firm understanding of the hemp crop and the greater industry that contains it, you can prepare yourself to take advantage of the unique opportunities that only this industry can provide. Because seemingly all industry projections are anticipating continuous growth over the next few decades, taking your time to familiarize with the opportunities you have available may certainly be worth the effort.

What is industrial hemp?

Naturally, if you are considering entering the hemp industry, it is very important that you understand exactly what you are going to be growing. The term “hemp” is often wrongfully conflated with the term “marijuana” and, though these products are both members of the same plant family, making the correct distinction between them is incredibly important.

The industrial hemp plant has been cultivated for human use for thousands of years. Throughout this time, there has been a selective increase in genetic variation in order to make the plant more specialized. Though hemp can be effectively used for industrial purposes such as the production of rope, clothing, paper, and other fiber-based products, it can also be consumed in a variety of different ways as well.

Within the hemp plant, there exists a natural variety of chemical compounds that are referred to as cannabinoids. The variety and intensity of the cannabinoids that are present in a given crop will directly influence the type of experience that a consumer may have. For many people, the most relevant cannabinoid will be cannabidiol (CBD), which when properly consumed, will not cause you to feel “high” since it is nonpsychoactive.

THC may sometimes be desirable, but other times it will not be. Industrial hemp—as defined by the State of Colorado and some other regulatory authorities—is a hemp plant that has less than 0.3% THC dry weight. The 0.3% figure is considered to be very important in the industry and will directly affect the level of regulations you will be exposed to as a hemp farmer.

Industrial hemp is still something that may be consumed in a variety of different forms. Usually, the cannabinoid that will be emphasized the most is cannabidiol (CBD), though others such as CBN and CBC may also be emphasized as well. If the hemp you are growing is designed to be consumed—rather than used for rope, cloth, or other fiber products—then this is something that will need to be considered when you are selecting your seeds and creating conditions that are conducive for growth.

What should I look for when comparing hemp seeds?

If you are planning on growing and harvesting industrial hemp, the importance of the seed selection process is not something that you should willingly overlook. Your seeds will impact the quality of your yields, your long-term profit margins, the content of your plants, and numerous other variables. Working with a seed provider that has a proven track record of enabling high yields will help you be more confident in your ability to grow.

The industrial hemp seed that makes the most sense for you will depend on where you intend to grow, your budget, and the intended use of your final crop (fibers versus CBD-heavy consumables, etc.). Here are a few of the most important things to consider when making your seed choice.

  • Color: most seeds will have a green or grayish-brown appearance and the best seeds will likely have dark markings on them (this will vary by genetics).
  • Purity: try to avoid seeds that are immature, severely weathered, or frozen.
  • Moisture: ideally, your hemp seeds will have less than eight percent moisture.
  • Fiber production: this will be relevant if your hemp is to be used for industrial purposes.
  • Projected cannabinoid content: you should have a “target” cannabinoid content before you begin comparing your different seed options.
  • Cost: decide whether quality or quantity will be more important and then compare these goals to the average cost per unit.
  • Oils, seeds, or stalks: depending on the part of the plant you plan to use, this can have a major impact on your decision.
  • Genetic history: what hemp crops were used in the process of breeding this seed? How has the seed historically performed when being grown under comparable conditions?

Though you could take a chance and use an industrial hemp seed that has a limited genetic history, doing so can often be quite risky. The best industrial hemp seed suppliers will be able to provide you with a significant amount of information assuring you that you might have a good yield. In addition to accounting for the anticipated climate in the area you intend to grow—which can sometimes be quite unpredictable in a state such as Colorado—you will also need to account for things such as the already existing nutrients in the soil, plants that have grown there in the past, and the type of industrial equipment that you believe you’ll have access to.

What else do I need to know about the hemp plant?

When compared to other crops that are frequently grown in the State of Colorado—particularly, crops such as wheat—the plant can be relatively complex. Though growing industrial hemp will still be significantly easier than growing marijuana (which will have a THC content much higher than 0.3%), familiarizing yourself with the plant to the greatest extent you possibly can will still be quite beneficial in the long-run.

One of the most important things to note about the hemp plant is that it is categorized as dioecious or monoecious. This means that the plant is genetically either male or female and will very rarely be both (though there are some exceptions). Paying attention to the sex of the plant is relevant because this will directly affect your potential for future yields. Male hemp plants do not produce flowers, only seeds, which means there will be a limited amount of value that can be extracted at the end of the year. Consequently, many farmers have had an increased interest in producing “female only” yields, though these yields will have increased costs upfront.

Another important detail to pay attention is the growing timeline of the hemp plant. Usually, the harvest will take place between 100 and 120 days after the seeds are initially sewed. In Colorado, the best time for harvesting will usually be around late June or early July (meaning that March is likely the ideal time to begin planting), but in a state with such an intense degree of climate variation, this will also depend on a variety of other factors. Other major landmarks in the growing timeline of industrial hemp include the emergence of seedling after about one week, the first true leaves about three days later, the end of pollination around day 60, and 80% maturity around day 100. 

What are the ideal conditions for growing industrial hemp?

As is the case with all major crops that are grown outdoors (which is usually perfectly fine for industrial hemp), there will be some growing conditions that you can control and other growing conditions that will be up to Mother Nature. Fortunately, when compared to the considerably more difficult marijuana plant, growing industrial hemp does allow you a fair amount of room for varying conditions.

Generally speaking, hemp should be planted once the risk of deep freezing is fully over. Depending on where you live in Colorado, this will usually be sometime in March (even if it drops below 32 degrees temporarily, your crops should still be safe). As a rule of thumb, it is a good idea to begin planting industrial hemp about two-three weeks before other farmers in your area are starting to plant corn.

Sunshine and access to water will also need to be accounted for. Most areas in Colorado have sunshine that is well above the national average which will help provide nutrients (in addition to those coming from fertilizer) for your plants. Though Colorado is, in fact, one of the drier states as a whole, runoff from the mountains results in an adequate supply to help you manually your crops through their first few weeks.

Additionally, unlike some comparable crops, it is actually beneficial for your crops to be grown relatively close together. The denseness of industrial hemp is one of the primary reasons that many in the industry will refer to it as the “green buffalo.”

Conclusion

Growing and harvesting a successful industrial hemp yield will certainly require an ample amount of research and hard work. Understanding which seeds can best satisfy your needs and understanding the conditions necessary to create a successful yield will be incredibly important. But there is a reason that more people decide to farm hemp each year—if you can pay attention to the important details, the hemp industry will present you with a lot of opportunities for success.