Cashing In on the Budding U.S. Hemp Growing Market
Now that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published its interim final rule for domestic hemp cultivation in compliance with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, interest in planting hemp in the upcoming 2020 growing season is skyrocketing nationwide. In fact, at least 47 states have now enacted legislation to establish industrial hemp cultivation and production programs. However, hemp has a few unique growing characteristics when compared to traditional row crops to be considered when hoping to successfully cash in on the projected multi-billion dollar crop. Here at AgEagle, we have a variety of information and software tools to help you navigate the production pitfalls of this emerging commodity.
According to Vote Hemp, in 2019, 34 states issued 17,800 licenses to farmers and researchers in the wake of hemp’s legalization, more than quintuple the 2018 figure. Of the half a million acres licensed, an estimated 295,000 acres were not planted because of limited access to seedlings and clones, a lack of financing and a “huge number “of inexperienced growers. Vote Hemp estimates that about 50% to 60% of the planted acres, or 120,000 to 144,000 acres, will actually be harvested, once crop failures, non-compliant plants and other factors are factored in.
To help improve the odds that you will be successful, here are five critical things you should consider now – well in advance of the 2020 planting season commencing:
1. State registration, licensing and testing.
Consult with your state or tribal nation department of agriculture to first ensure that it is legal to plant hemp in your area; and if so:
Understand how to register and license acreage that you will be dedicating to hemp cultivation. Some states, such as the State of Florida which is implementing AgEagle’s HempOverview platform, may offer online registration and licensing; while others may require manual submission of required information.
Some states may subject growers to a criminal background check, so don’t be surprised if you need to book an appointment for fingerprinting with you local police department if that is a requirement.
Learn and plan now what will be required to meet your state’s hemp flower sampling regulations – understand how to take a hemp flower sample and identify what state approved CBD/THC testing facilities are available for you to utilize.
2. Planting and harvesting strategy.
HempOverview can help you here as well with a variety of crop monitoring solutions that will track your progress and inform your field operations from planting to harvest. Whether using AgEagle’s tools or your own, its best to develop a detailed strategy for how and what you will be planting and harvesting on your designated hemp acreage.
Choose whether you will be producing hemp for the fiber markets or the potentially more lucrative CBD markets. The quantity of biomass that hemp produces can be used for livestock feed, biofuel production, paper and textiles – in fact, it is estimated that there are 25,000+ known uses. The seeds sold for next years planting, or for processing into seed oil (like sunflower or canola oil), require special consideration as food grade agricultural products. CBD oil derived from the flower is considered to be one of the most profitable industries.
Determine whether you will be planting transplants or seeds. If seeds, what type will you be using: state certified, feminized, out-of-state? Do your homework to ensure that you are choosing a seed varietal that is compatible with your region/planting environment and have been specifically bred to produce the type of hemp that you will be growing.
Commit to a specific timeline for harvesting and drying at the ‘right’ stage in your planting region to optimize your outputs.
3. Get your soil tested.
Hemp is a natural concentrator of heavy metals, so ensure that your fields are free of contaminants and that soil nutrients are amended, as necessary.
Hemp is particularly adept at removing heavy metals present in soil and storing them in the flowering portion of the plant. These heavy metals can easily be transferred to the end consumer during inhalation or ingestion.
Hemp grows best in well-drained soils that are high in organic matter.
4. Identify your processor!
Market your hemp before you plant. Identify hemp processor(s); meet with them to understand their quality expectations, planting and harvesting expectations, et al.; and contract in advance, if possible.
5. Playing it safe.
Consider purchasing hemp crop insurance, which is now available to growers under the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) program for the 2020 crop year. In August 2019, the USDA’s Risk Management Agency announced insurance coverage is available for hemp grown for fiber, flower or seeds, which is available to producers who are in areas covered by USDA-approved hemp plans or who are part of approved state or university research pilot programs.
To be eligible, among other requirements, a hemp producer must comply with applicable state, tribal or federal regulations for hemp cultivation and have a contract for the purchase of the insured industrial hemp.
Provisions further state that hemp having THC levels above the compliance level (0.3%) will NOT constitute an insurable loss, nor will hemp qualify for replant payments under the WFRP program.
One final recommendation: become an expert. To be a successful hemp producer, it is important that you take full advantage of educational resources being made available to you by state, territorial and tribal hemp program administrators. Further, corporate and state-sponsored workshops, conferences and trade shows are routinely being hosted around the country, representing another valuable channel for learning more about domestic hemp production in your region. And, of course, there are countless articles being published on the Internet virtually every day. Take the time to learn and plan and your odds for success should grow exponentially.