What Farmers Need to Know About Growing Hemp
Updated: Mar 11
Are you considering planting hemp on your farm this year?
When hemp was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill, farmers across the U.S. rejoiced. Finally, hemp, one of the world’s most useful plants, could be grown after 80 long years of prohibition. However, a planting “gold rush” mentality in the 2019 season and an immature marketplace left many eager and uninformed new hemp farmers with nothing but debt and an unsellable hemp crop.
Farmers considering planting hemp for the first time need to be well aware of the challenges facing hemp farmers.
Hemp Can be Grown for Many Potential Uses
Hemp is an extremely versatile plant used in many applications — “fiber, food and pharma” is the typical mantra.
Hemp flower and leaves (called biomass) can be harvested to produce federally legal, non-intoxicating cannabinoids, like CBD, CBG and CBN. Cannabinoids interact with the human endocannabinoid system — part of the human nervous system that works to keep bodies in ‘homeostasis,’ or operating at peak function. Cannabinoids are thought to offer many health benefits, from reducing pain and inflammation to relieving stress and anxiety to helping combat insomnia.
High cannabinoid-producing hemp biomass can be processed for full-spectrum cannabinoid oil. This utilizes all of hemp’s naturally-occurring cannabinoids plus other human health-positive plant compounds like terpenes and flavonoids without having an intoxicating effect, like marijuana does. Or, the natural compounds in hemp can be lab isolated to create pure CBD (or one of the other non-intoxicating cannabinoids).
Hemp grain, the seed from the hemp flowerhead containing negligible amounts of cannabinoids, is considered a “superfood” and one of the most nutritionally complete food sources globally. Hemp fiber (hemp produces a long and short fiber) is widely useful in many industries, from producing textiles to paper to batteries.
However, all those great uses come with unique roadblocks when adding hemp into your farming operations.
Hemp is Indeed Legal to Grow, Sort Of
Hemp growers can easily find themselves in legal hot water (and their crop seized) if they aren’t well aware of all the ins-and-outs of growing hemp.
Hemp and marijuana are the same species (Cannabis sativa). The difference (from a legal standpoint) is that hemp produces less than .3% THC, the ‘intoxicating’ cannabinoid in the cannabis plant. Marijuana typically has 20% THC or more.
With less than .3% THC, hemp plants produce no noticeable intoxicating effects upon consumption. However, it is possible for a hemp crop to “go hot” at harvest time and over the legal definition of hemp. Even a crop that tests at .4% for THC is legally considered “marijuana.” It cannot be sold and must be destroyed or a farmer faces charges of growing an illegal marijuana crop.
Plus, some states have banned smokable hemp flower because it looks just like marijuana flower.
Some consumers prefer to smoke hemp for the taste, aroma and experience, plus the benefits of hemp’s non-intoxicating cannabinoids, like CBD. But law enforcement personnel cannot tell the difference between legal hemp flower and illegal marijuana bud, prompting some states to ban hemp flower altogether.