By Noah Chen
While excitement builds about the cultivation and distribution of the multifaceted hemp flower, not everyone knows that hemp biomass — the stalks and leaves left over after harvesting — can get processed into several useful forms.
Some methods require investing in equipment and materials. Others are perfect for budget-conscious farmers. By harnessing these methods of hemp biomass processing, growers can increase profits and use every part of the hemp plant.
Drying Hemp Biomass
How you process hemp biomass depends on what you plan to do with it afterward. No matter the final product you want to sell, the first step is always the same. Whether for essential oil production, fertilizer mulch, fuel, or even animal bedding, drying comes first.
Drying hemp can happen in any room with decent airflow. It’s as simple as leaving the biomass hanging from the ceiling for three-to-five days, if you’ve got that kind of time. For best results, cut the branches off of the center stalk, called a hurd, before hanging. If hung flat, there’s a chance for moisture buildup in the middle of the hurd, which can lead to mold. Mold is hemp’s enemy. It can quickly ruin a crop. It’s best, if using this traditional drying method, to leave the biomass hanging and continually monitor the moisture in the room.
Once dry, you can send the hemp biomass to processing, purchase equipment to do it yourself, or consider another use. Biomass burns hot and makes an excellent fuel source that can replace wood in personal and industrial settings. It’s also high in nutrients and can make effective fertilizer if mulched. Most will opt to extract hemp oil from the dried biomass though, it’s the most lucrative option.
Retting Hemp Biomass
Retting is a form of processing hemp biomass where the fiber gets extracted from the hurd. The idea is to use moisture and microorganisms to break down the stalk of the hemp plant, making the removal of the fibers a breeze.
Hemp fibers are durable and valuable materials that can make textiles, rope, and paper. The retting process softens the bonds between the fibers and the hurd so that, upon completion, the fibers are easily peeled off the branch.
There are multiple methods of retting. The cheapest way is to bundle up the hemp biomass for processing and submerge it in a natural water source like a pond or stream. Natural water retting will take anywhere from three days to a month, depending on the temperature of the water. At 44 degrees Fahrenheit, retting is complete in 30-45 days. At about 98 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s complete in as few as three. Any temperature below 41 degrees Fahrenheit means the necessary bacteria aren’t active to break down the biomass. Above 104 degrees Fahrenheit will destroy the fibers.
Using a tank
Alternatively, retting biomass can also take place in a large tank. This is often much more efficient because you can control the temperature of the water. It’s also more expensive. Tank retting takes anywhere from 3-10 days. However, the retted water absorbs a lot of the nutrients from the biomass, leaving it useful as a liquid fertilizer. The ideal tank size is a 1:2 ratio, biomass weight to water volume.
Processing hemp biomass to increase profits
With so many uses for hemp biomass, properly drying and processing it can certainly lead to greater profits. Whether you decide to retting is the right way to go or not, time is essential to keep the biomass safe from mold, pests, and more. Should you decide that doing all the work of drying and processing on your own is too much, turn to Arbor Vita8. Our superior facility has the capacity to dry your biomass and process it. From seed to sale, we’re here to advise and support you through our expert staff and array of services. Contact us today to learn more.