How to Grow Hemp: A Practical Guide to Hemp Farming

lush hemp plants growing

Hemp has gained wider acceptance among government departments and farmers as a viable commercial product with over 25,000 known uses. Hemp is considered a super-crop for its many industrial applications from producing fibers for clothing and rope to harvesting seeds for food. Now that the 2018 Farm Bill has removed hemp from the list of Schedule I drugs, hemp farming is expected to grow exponentially.

Recent legislation has lifted a previous ban on growing hemp in the United States, in order to compete with long-time hemp producers like China, Canada, and Europe. Since the U.S. halted any progress in hemp cultivation for so many years, new rules and regulations are aimed at establishing resilient cultivars that grow well in the U.S.

Farmers wondering how to grow hemp must consider the varying state statues that oversee hemp production. They must also consider the climate, soil type, rainfall, seed genetics, nutrients, and other conditions necessary for a thriving hemp crop. Here's a general overview of what is needed to grow hemp for fiber, seed, or cannabidiol (CBD)

The Benefits Of Industrial Hemp

industrial hemp farmer harvesting crops

Hemp is a worthy, eco-friendly, and sustainable crop with a nearly endless amount of known uses. Hemp is an attractive crop for some farmers due to its resilience against droughts, pests, and weeds. Hemp is also known as a "mop crop" meaning it helps to clean up the surrounding soil from pollutants like heavy metals.

The large quantities of hemp biomass can produce everything from seeds and oils to fibrous stalks. Hemp can be used as a replacement for livestock feed, biofuels, textiles, and the highly-sought-after and CBD oil.

Apply For A Permit To Grow Hemp

holding a hemp plant as it grows, learning how to grow hemp

Despite the promising future of hemp cultivation, many states have specific regulations for commercial hemp production. Prospective hemp farmers need to be licensed, registered, and permitted with the state. The permitting process may include criminal background checks, periodic license renewals, regular inspections, plant testing, and record reviews.

If a grower does not accurately record all sales or distributions or is not part of an approved hemp program, they could face legal repercussions. Future hemp farmers learning how to grow hemp need to first ensure that it's legal to grow hemp in their area by reviewing the National Conference of State Legislatures' list of state-level hemp statutes.

If the process to become a hemp grower isn’t clear in your state, or you just don’t have the time to take up hemp farming, you can easily buy quality CBD products. If you’re in the Colorado area, Discover CBD has you covered. They have three locations around Colorado Springs and another in the Denver metro area, with knowledgeable staff at each location to help you pick the best product for you. If you aren’t in Colorado, they have an online CBD store too! You can get your favorite CBD products shipped right to you.

Choose The Appropriate Hemp Seeds

hemp seeds on hemp cloth

Apart from the growing conditions, one of the most important parts of learning how to grow hemp is paying attention to the genetics of hemp seeds. There are three types of hemp cultivars: oilseed, fiber, and hybrid. Each variety of hemp is bred to produce either more oilseed, fiber, or a mix of both. Industrial hemp growers may have a difficult time finding the right hemp seeds to grow.

According to the federal government, hemp farmers must obtain seeds that produce hemp cultivars with a low THC content (under 0.3%). Local seed breeders must register with the state. Seeds purchased internationally may not perform as well in U.S. climates and soil. Additionally, non-sterilized hemp seeds are not allowed to be imported into the United States.

Soil Condition

rich soil for hemp, needed for how to grow hemp

Hemp is an annual plant that thrives in most of the country, besides desert or high mountain regions. Before growing hemp, industrial farmers should perform a soil test in late fall or early spring to ensure that the soil has the right amount of nutrients like elemental sulfur, potassium sulfate, and soft rock phosphate.

Hemp cultivars prefer well-drained loam soils with a pH between 6.0-7.5 and plenty of organic matter. Farmers may use tiled clay soils, but they should make sure that the clay soil is not too compacted. Industrial hemp is sensitive to densely compacted soil reducing the yield. Poorly-drained soils can especially affect young seedlings resulting in stunted or uneven crops.

How To Plant Hemp

rows of hemp

Hemp seeds should be planted around late spring. The best time to plant is until the last frost has hit, which can differ based on location. Ideally, soil temperatures should be no lower than 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit. Farmers must check the temperature 1 inch beneath the soil with a thermometer to ensure it's warm enough. After a few days of warm temperature, seeds can be planted. Hemp thrives in warm temperatures.

Many farmers can grow anywhere between 20 to 40 pounds per acre for hemp grain production and 40 to 60 pounds per acre for hemp fiber production. When preparing the seedbed, farmers should plow their soil in the fall and prepare their seedbed in the spring. A seed drill can help space seeds evenly and 0.75-1.25 inches deep into the soil. Hemp is usually planted in 6 to 7-inch rows. Plants for fiber can be grown closer together since plants have no branching.

Tending To Hemp

hemp seeds and flour and oil for hemp cbd

Hemp seedlings require extra care during the first six weeks of the growing season. Growers should ensure that seeds receive 12-15 inches of water throughout the growing season. After the first six weeks, the hemp plant becomes drought-resistant meaning it can grow without daily watering. Larger hemp crops will require a specialized irrigation system.

Hemp farmers can spread nitrogen-rich fertilizers all over their crops. Avoid spreading fertilizer on wet days since the mixture can stick to the plant. Fertilizing the ground is best performed during warm and dry days. When learning how to grow hemp, it’s important to know that after applying 150 to 200 pounds of fertilizer per acre, 45-70 pounds of phosphorus per acre, and 45-70 pounds per acre of potash, growers should water their plants to increase absorption of nutrients into the hemp.

Hemp's shadowy canopy (nearing 12 inches after 3-4 weeks) prevents most weeds from growing, but if any weeds do pop up, hemp farmers can spray pre-emergent herbicide after germination. The downside is that there are no herbicides approved for hemp cultivation.

Retting And Harvesting Hemp Fibers

tall hemp stalks

Hemp will begin to flower when day lengths are less than 12 hours. After this time, vegetative hemp growth ceases and flowering begins. Hemp is typically harvested 90-120 days after planting, depending on the hemp cultivar and growing conditions. Hemp fiber cultivars can mature in 60 to 90 days, while grain cultivars can take 110 to 115 days to mature. Hemp seed is harvested when the seeds are ripe and shattering.

Retting is the process of letting the bast fibers from the hemp plant degrade. During retting, the fibers separate from the core of the hemp plant. Hemp stalks are collected with a sickle (curved blade) about one inch from the ground to get most of the plant's fibers. Larger crops may require large equipment like a sickle-bar attachment for tractors.

Customization may be needed for machinery to accommodate the bushy hemp cultivars. Growers may partner with companies that process raw hemp plant locally to avoid purchasing high-cost equipment. During retting, plants are left in the field for up to 5 weeks to let microbes decay the plant matter. Retting is complete when fibers are a golden or grayish color.

Hemp stalks will need to be dried in a cool and dry location to get their moisture level down to 15%. A moisture reader can help growers determine when the fibers have a low enough moisture level. A decorticator can be used to break apart the hemp stalk.

Harvesting Hemp Seeds

Spoonful of Hemp Hearts on Green Background
Photo by: Teri Virbickis/Shutterstock
Hemp seeds can be harvested after 16 weeks with a sickle. Seeds should be firm and with minimal surrounding leaves. Growers can then cut the seeds below the lowest seed pod. Seeds can be broken apart with a hard object over a tarp. Larger hemp seed harvests may require a commercial thresher that separates grain from plants. Winnowing the seeds helps reduce any unnecessary material by letting the stem residue blow away. Seeds can be stored in an airtight container in temperatures between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prospective hemp farmers face an uphill battle, but recent legislation has made hemp farming an economically viable crop for some farmers. More research is needed into hemp cultivation to determine improved growing techniques. Farmers wondering how to grow hemp should perform their due diligence in researching what hemp cultivar and growing conditions are best for their farming operations. As hemp farming becomes more mainstream, there'll be more information on new growing methods to maximize hemp yields.