Tempted by potential profits from the burgeoning industrial hemp industry? Before you sow your first seed, make sure you have your bases covered.
Legal in the United States since late 2018, hemp is now more than a billion dollar industry in the United States. With that kind of growth, the industry is attractive to newcomers of all kinds. Especially farmers who want to expand into new, more profitable markets. But, jumping right into hemp farming, without the right preparation, can lead to devastating results. Here are some of the most common mistakes beginner hemp farmers make, and how to avoid doing them yourself.
Line up a processor
Lyle Christensen has an 80 acre farm in Salem, Utah. It primarily produces hay. He cautioned against going too big without having a purchaser ready for your product. He knows of other farmers whose ambitions led to disaster.
“What I see from other farmers is that it’s hard to line up a buyer,” said Christensen, who started with a few plants last year. “People think they’re going to grow a product and make a bunch of money off of it.”
Erica Stark, the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Hemp Association, said the industry faced a surplus of supply in 2019.
“Try to identify who you are selling to before you plant,” Stark said. This is often a processor, who’s able to take your harvested hemp and extract from it the CBD or CBG oil manufacturers want. Partnering with a processor before your first seed even goes into the ground can ensure you have a spot in the queue come harvesting time. This allows you to get your hemp dried and processed without any headaches.
Don’t invest too much up front without understanding your market, said Stark. Because the startup costs for cultivation are expensive, she recommends starting out with the smallest acreage your state allows. In Alabama, this means five acres of hemp if you’re using it for CBD. If growing hemp for grain or fiber, 20 is the minimum acreage.
“One of the biggest pitfalls is to go too far too fast,” Stark said. “It’s going to take some time for demand to grow and the markets to even themselves out.”
Last year Christensen began with a few plants on his long-time family farm. This year he planted 300 plants and if all goes well, he’ll expand that to four or five acres next year.
Know what you’re growing
Starting gradually has helped him learn the nuances of growing hemp, said Christensen. Farmers, who normally have a culture of sharing information, seem curiously tight lipped about sharing trade secrets. “Nobody is willing to share how they do things,” he said. As unforthcoming as farmers may seem, there are other experts in the hemp field willing to share their knowledge. That said, farmers need to make sure they educate themselves.
One of the challenges Christensen has had is discovering what kind of nutrition a hemp crop needs. He’s also researching how to incorporate more automation. “I’ve learned a lot from last year. I can grow much better this year.”
According to Stark, farmers need to understand the importance of testing, and the sensitivity of hemp plants to shift outside the realm of hemp. “People need to understand the nuances to make sure your plants don’t exceed THC levels,” she said.
Care is also necessary to properly prepare the product for delivery. Stark said that she knew of growers who didn’t dry the material right and mold ruined the product during transport.
Get the facts
For Alabama farmers, one resource to help is Vita Arbor8. From seed to sale, we offer a full assortment of services and support to guide you through the entire hemp growing processes. Contact us today to learn more about our Partner Farmer program, and how we help you avoid the common pitfalls many first-time hemp farmers experience.