Since the passage of the farm 2014 Bill, hemp cultivation in America has skyrocketed. Many are rushing to incorporate this versatile crop into their rotation. Right now, there are essentially two categories of hemp being grown– standard industrial hemp for seed or fiber and High CBD industrial hemp for extraction or smoking purposes. Today, we’re going to be talking about the latter and giving you a brief guide to how to start a CBD hemp farm.
Hemp vs Marijuana
First things first, we should talk about the distinction between hemp and marijuana. The key differences between the two plants are their legality and their THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content. Hemp was made federally legal in 2018 with the passage of the Farm Bill, while marijuana remains illegal. Typically, marijuana contains high levels of THC, making it produce a “high” feeling. Hemp, on the other hand, contains significantly less THC than marijuana. Under the Farm Bill, hemp is legally defined as cannabis that contains less than .3% THC by dry weight. Typically, hemp is grown for three main purposes: seed, fiber, and CBD. CBD or cannabidiol is another cannabis-derived compound like THC. However, it is non-intoxicating and has been reported to have many possible therapeutic effects. Growing high CBD hemp is quite different than your standard industrial hemp as it requires wider spacing.
The Legal Stuff
Now that we’ve made sure we’re on the same page about the differences between hemp and marijuana, we get to talk about hemp licensing laws in the U.S. Regardless of where you live, all hemp farmers are required to obtain a hemp cultivation license in the United States before they can start a hemp farm.
Applying for a Hemp Cultivation License
Hemp licenses can be obtained under state hemp programs, tribal hemp programs, or the United States Department of Agriculture. We highly recommend familiarizing yourself with your State’s hemp laws, as legislation specifics may vary by state. If your state or tribe has an approved hemp plan or is in the process of developing a plan, you will need to obtain a license under its hemp program. If your state or tribe does not have an approved plan, you will need to apply under the USDA.
Applications can be submitted online or by mail. However, it’s important to remember that applications take about 30 days to process on average so adequate planning is critical. Besides the actual application, you are also required to submit an FBI criminal history report. Anyone who has been convicted of a controlled substance-related felony is not eligible for a hemp cultivation license. These reports typically cost about $20 and require you to submit fingerprints. They can be obtained online, by mail, or via an FBI approved-channeler.
The Hemp License Application
While most licenses vary by state, most applications require three main pieces of information:
- Business Information- This usually includes your basics like the name of the applicant as well as your business name. The information you fill in will vary depending on if you’re applying as an individual registrant or a business. That being said, it’s important to make sure you have an active business license. If you are applying as an individual, you may be required to complete a citizenship verification form.
- Cultivation Location- This is the part of the application that requires a little bit more thought. When it comes to growing hemp, cultivation location is extremely important. In terms of the application, you will need to submit the name, address, and latitude, and longitude of your cultivation location, as well as the size of your cultivation area. Typically, this measurement is reported in acres. Some states also require applicants to submit maps, which is why it’s important to take a close look at your local requirements.
- Cultivation Plan- Hemp cultivation license applications often require a pre-planting report. This is basically a rough outline of your planting plan, listing which varieties you’ll be planting, and describing how the hemp will be used e.g. Fiber, seed, CBD. No pressure though, the pre-planting report can always be altered.
Selecting a Hemp Cultivation Location
Hemp is a highly versatile and resilient plant but it does have some preferences. Hemp loves well-drained soil with high levels of organic matter. It also tends to prefer mild temperatures and mild humidity but can pretty much be grown anywhere. Hemp can definitely be grown in arid locations. Colorado’s success can attest to that. It will just require additional irrigation.
It’s especially important to make sure your growing in clean soil because hemp is a phytoremediator. This means it absorbs whatever is in the soil into its tissue. If the soil is contaminated with heavy metals, your hemp farm will be too.
Lastly, it’s important to check if your city or country has any industrial hemp zoning restrictions when selecting your cultivation area. And if you’re in a state where marijuana is legal, marijuana cannot be grown in the registered land covered by your certificate.
Growing hemp can be a relatively low-stress process when you prepare adequately. We recommend assessing your manpower early on and working with the resources you’ve already got– especially if it’s your first year growing. Luckily, most common farming equipment can be used for growing hemp. Having said that, hemp can also be sewn by hand but that requires significantly more work and is not recommended for large-scale farming. For the majority of our planting, we use water-wheel or carousel planters. For harvest, we use a combine with a standard pickup head. To see more of our farming procedures, check out our resources page.
At Blue Forest Farms, we recommend practicing integrated pest management to keep pests below the economic damage threshold. However, this practice can require a bit of preparation time and research. Permitted pesticides and herbicides vary by state so it’s especially important to check in with your local agriculture extension while creating your pest management toolkit.
The most important part of your cultivation planning is a testing schedule. Because hemp cannot go above .3% THC, it’s important to make sure you implement a testing schedule to remain compliant. As you get closer to harvest, you’ll want to begin testing more often. Look for testing labs and familiarize yourself with their sampling protocols.
When it comes to CBD hemp genetics, quality can make or break your grow. Three things to look for are germination rate, feminization, and third-party testing. When growing high CBD hemp, you only want to grow female hemp plants, as males do not produce CBD. This is why it’s extremely important to purchase feminized seeds that have a low chance of producing males. On top of that, the germination rate is very important. Seeds that don’t germinate or end up being male can be devastating financially, ultimately affecting yields. This is why it’s essential to buy from a reputable seed dealer that tests their genetics.
Another thing to consider while selecting seeds is the hemp strain you want to grow. Some strains like Queen Dream, tend to perform better in more humid climates than other strains. If you live in a place with a short or even an especially long growing season, you may want to consider growing an autoflower strain, like Apricot Auto which can be harvested 75-85 days after planting. That way you can make sure you have enough time for the plants to fully develop or you can grow multiple hemp crops if your growing season is long.
Surely, there are many steps to take before starting a hemp farm but we hope we’ve helped you get a better grasp on the key pieces. And of course, there will always be lessons learned along the way… mother nature will make sure of that!