How to Grow Hemp for CBD to Ensure Profitability
If you grow row crops, chances are you know your plants well. Whether you grow sugar beets, soybeans, corn or something else altogether, you have a base of knowledge and experience to work from. After years of practice, you gain confidence in the seed varieties that work the best for you. You know how to deal with the local soil, weather, and pest conditions that impact your crop’s productivity … and your profitability.
But hemp is a different story.
Unlike most traditional row crops, we only resumed growing hemp commercially in the United States three years ago after decades of prohibition. There are not a lot of field trials or generations of performance data about how to grow hemp for CBD out there. Methods for planting, weeding, and harvesting hemp are not standardized. And to make things even more complicated, there’s little uniformity in the post-harvest community, which is still straining to scale up to meet the galloping demand for CBD products.
In this unsettled commercial environment, pioneering hemp farmers are discovering that flexibility and improvisation are critical to coaxing out a profitable hemp harvest. They find they must often rely on their own best judgement when vetting unregulated suppliers for seed, equipment, drying, and extraction. If you are a hemp novice who is considering planting a few acres in 2020, this all may sound too ambiguous, but don’t despair. Hundreds of farmers are succeeding with growing hemp for CBD. And, if you’re considering joining their ranks, there are steps you can take now to ensure that your first experiment goes well. Start early and create a solid foundation for building a sustainable, successful hemp farming business in the years to come.
Seed Quality Is Critical
One thing that just about everyone in the hemp supply chain agrees upon: the quality of your hemp seeds is the most critical investment you can make. Your margin depends on it and you need to be prepared to pay more for a reliable, top-performing, feminized hemp strain. Of course, at Cheyenne Mountain Seed Company (CMSC), we believe our products are best-in-class and we stand behind their quality when growing hemp for CBD. Still, we encourage farmers to do their own due diligence when researching seed companies. To make that easier, we have published a short list of questions you should ask your prospective supplier to ensure that you are buying the best-available seed product for your operation. We encourage you to print that list out and keep it in your back pocket as you go through your decision-making process.
Understanding Hemp Economics
Many growers have a “sticker shock” moment when they first get acquainted with the cost of hemp seed for growing a CBD crop. It’s important to remember that the economics of hemp are very different from more traditional industrial crops. Let’s take a quick look at one example to get a relative idea. Estimates vary from state to state, but a recent Farm Journal report found that the nonland cost per acre for Illinois was in the neighborhood of $650. About $115 of that was for seed. An acre produced approximately 210 bushels of corn at about $3.85 per bushel in 2019. Compare this to an acre of CBD hemp – and please note that this has different economics from mass-produced industrial hemp. It will cost you about $3,000 per acre for growing CBD hemp seed, which typically works out to about 1,500 plants per acre. The gross value of a two pound, properly dried hemp plant will range from about $100 to $1,000. At 10% cannabinoid content it would yield 180 grams of full-spectrum oil, worth $2 to $3 a gram depending on the market. The highest prices are paid for trimmed, smokable flower. To complete the math and calculate net value, you will need to factor in your production costs. One-time upfront investments in things like an indoor germination space, planting and harvesting equipment, and a drip irrigation system will make growing your first hemp for CBD crop more expensive to produce. After that, your annual cost-per-acre will revolve mostly around recurring costs for seed, seed starter material, water, irrigation supplies and other inputs and labor you need to keep your plants healthy. As in most anything we humans do, we can get better and more efficient as we build experience. Enter your hemp experience conservatively, do your homework, follow all recommended best practices, and in time, your patience will pay off financially.
Cut Risk with Indoor Germination
We generally recommend to hemp growers for CBD products that they germinate their seeds indoors in a greenhouse. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, the feedback we’re getting from our farmers indicates that planting seeds mechanically reduces the germination rate by 20-30%. Planting seedlings has proven to be a more dependable method, either with a hand tool or motorized planter. By starting your own seedlings, you are immediately reducing your risk and helping to control your costs.
Additionally, growing your own seedlings will lessen your risk of crop damage from volatile spring weather, especially in more northern climates. While CMSC seed has proven to be incredibly hardy, even in some harsh weather conditions, there’s no reason to take unnecessary risk growing hemp for CBD when you could opt for indoor germination.
Starting your seeds in a controlled environment is a great way to reduce your liability. Want to know more about how to do this? We’ve created an easy step-by-step video where we walk through each part of the process and suggest optimal supplies and methods! Our website also contains a great deal of helpful information about how to get your production started. And, if you’re still uncertain, just call Kirk Rogoin at 719 619-9489. We’re always happy to answer your questions!
Gearing up for planting season, there are still more things that you can do now to get set up for success in growing your hemp for CBD production.
Be Knowledgeable About Local Conditions
If you’re new to crop farming, you will want to check the The Old Farmer’s Almanac to establish the average first and last frost dates for your area. This will give you an estimated optimal time for planting. If you’re new to hemp (and who isn’t!), take time during the cold weather months to read up on hemp production and talk to other farmers in your state who have planted a crop.
Research Suppliers Thoroughly
It’s especially important to research drying services in your area or a neighboring state. Identifying a partner who will take in your hemp for CBD grow harvest and dry it for you in a timely fashion is a critical step in the production process that should not be left to the last minute.
Going even further down the process line, research viable companies for CBD extraction. As with hemp seed companies, there’s still a wide spectrum of quality and methodologies in this unregulated environment. Some companies do extraction only, while others are more vertically integrated and have a wholesale and/or retail side. As you did with selecting a seed supplier, it’s important to research, read, and do your homework. Understand the legalities involved in growing hemp for CBD, not just around your own crop but any steps you’ll be involved with to get your harvest processed and sold. Ask questions about the extractor’s processing method. Some companies are highly exacting and produce consistent, high-quality CBD oil. You will want to select a processor that is following all the regulatory rules and that has appropriate licenses and certifications. Ask to see their Certificates of Analysis for any products they sell. Their response will tell you a lot about the purity and integrity of the work they do. Verify that they have a well-run, legitimate manufacturing facility. Also, as you shop for an extractor solution, be aware that this is a two-way street: many extractors have hemp specifications that you will need to meet when growing hemp for CBD in order to sell to them. Get a solid understanding of the standards they have for the hemp they process and make sure that your harvest can meet those standards.
Plan and Budget Your Operational Details
In addition to working on your supply chain plan, the pre-planting months are also a good time to make a plan for keeping your crop watered, weeded, pest free, and protected from molds and fungus. Unlike traditional row crops, CBD hemp should be grown with pesticides, herbicides or fungicides approved by the State Department of Agriculture such as Colorado’s Pesticide Applicator Act. If that’s a whole new ball game for you, take time to familiarize yourself with the best options. This is another topic you might want to take up with other local farmers who have had field trials with hemp. They can be your best source of insights for typical hazards that occur in your area and how they can be dealt with effectively. Now is also the time to figure out your irrigation system and identify how you will use mechanical means and beneficial predators to keep your hemp plants for CBD healthy as they grow. Knowing ahead of time exactly what solutions you want to use and what they cost will help you protect your margin. You don’t want to be in “reaction mode” when bad things happen. Instead, be well prepared to deal with any likely challenges so that you are not forced to make fast, inaccurate, and possibly costly decisions.
As a final preparation measure, do some thinking ahead about how you’ll conduct your harvest. Investigate sources of day labor in your area. Hand harvesting hemp needs to be done in a particular way and it is hard work, but it is not a high-level skill. We had a report from one of our growers of hemp for CBD that it took a crew of 10 three days to harvest his 10-acre hemp plot. That’s not a magic formula to apply to your situation – just a general guideline. Again, this is decision-making you want to do now and build into your budget. You don’t want to be scrambling for resources as your crop comes to maturity.
Be Diligent about Monitoring Your Plot
Now, here’s the good news. Once you get your CBD hemp crop growing and it starts to take off, things get a little easier and you enter “monitor mode.” This doesn’t mean you can relax and put your feet up, but the day-to-day gets to be less intensive. At this point, you are keeping a steady eye on the plot, watchful for any signs of stress, pests, weeds, or disease. You also want to keep a close watch at the end of the season when THC levels can begin to edge upward toward the 0.3 percent limit. Leave your hemp crop growing for CBD production in the field too long and it could literally go up in smoke, torched by state regulators.
The main bywords as you enter hemp production are research and planning. Going in with as much knowledge as possible will help you maneuver around the inherent risks that affect all kinds of farming. CBD hemp can be a highly lucrative venture when you prepare yourself and your operation.
Get your feminized hemp seeds from Cheyenne Mountain Seed Company today to get ready for the Spring hemp growing season!