Growing Hemp on the Homestead
The Hemp Plant is a Hardy Annual and is Easy to Manage
Reading Time: 5 minutes
By Anita B. Stone – Recent interest in growing hemp as an agricultural crop isn’t as recent as you might think. Hemp is an ancient plant. Evidence points to the plant’s use 10,000 years ago where it has been used for centuries as a form of textile fiber. It is one of the oldest cultivated crops on earth. Our U.S. Constitution was written on hemp paper and many of our early presidents grew hemp for its high fiber content.
Several strains of the cannabis plant, Cannabis satvia, are grown commercially in the U.S. Three of these are commonly chosen for the production of either fiber, seeds, nutritional oil, or to be used as biofuel or forage. Marijuana is another strain of this same plant, but it is not considered an agricultural or horticultural crop.
Each strain has the same chemical formula, but differs only in the arrangement of the atoms within. This distinction gives each strain a different phytochemical composition and is responsible for huge differences in the plant’s characteristics and commercial market.
Two of the chemicals involved, called cannabinoids, are important factors to be considered in choosing hemp as an agricultural crop. They are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), a recent well-known type. It is the percentage of each in the plant, and the balance between them, that is important in raising hemp as a nutritional commodity, such as for seeds or oil.
Hemp also has commercial potential as a fiber producer. The stems of this plant produce strong fiber for cordage and many other industrial uses.
In general, hemp is an extremely hardy annual plant and not difficult to manage. It tolerates poor soil, crowding, and requires less water and hands-on care than many other crops. However, commercial hemp, especially that grown for CBD oil or nutritional food, requires considerable care and expertise.
Learning the ropes with this commodity takes time and demands education and experience for success. The mature plants of each strain take slightly different physical forms, some being tall and lanky with others having a bushy compact shape. Each type requires its own growing conditions for optimum yield.
Hemp grown for CBD oil has more critical requirements for soil composition and water needs than that grown for other purposes. These factors must be taken into consideration to produce high-quality oil. Oil quality has a major bearing on eventual market value.
In addition to the peculiarities of hemp’s chemical composition, which are not always stable, growing this crop for the nutritional or health market carries an additional legislative burden for the grower. Hemp has gained wider acceptance among government departments as a viable crop. It is also considered a super-crop for its many industrial applications.
There are state and federal regulations that must be followed to avoid loss of the crop. In states that allow hemp to be grown agriculturally, licensing is necessary and regular testing of the crop must be carried out. This is due to avoid the “mistake-on-purpose” of raising a marijuana crop, which is heavily regulated, and to keep a close watch on the cannabinoid THC level since it must be kept below 0.3% to be legal.
This is complicated by the fact that the hemp plant can’t be counted on to maintain a reliable cannabinoid balance. Although carefully prepared, each seed cannot be guaranteed to produce a plant with a given phytochemical level and, further, the plants themselves, despite all precaution, can spontaneously decide to change the THC balance depending upon where they are planted and other variables.
Despite these and other complications inherent in the process of growing hemp, its future as a lucrative homestead crop has not dimmed. The global industrial hemp market is expected to grow from 4.6 billion in 2019 to 26.6 billion by 2025. Industrial hemp is the fastest growing crop in U.S. agriculture. Since the pilot programs of 2014 and hemp’s removal from the Controlled Substances Act in 2018, the number of acres planted is 100 times greater than five years ago.
Growing industrial hemp is legal in 47 states and farmers are turning to this crop since other grain commodities are not doing as well. With ongoing research into the genetic properties of the plant and as more hands-on information is gathered by farmers engaged in growing hemp, many uncertainties surrounding hemp agriculture will lessen. At the same time, more and more uses for hemp fiber are being discovered.
Farmer Colby Johnson of Wyoming states, “My best luck has been in selling hemp seeds and seed oil for culinary and nutritional use. It’s not going to save a farm,” he says, “it’s just going to be another tool the farmer can use, going forward.” Johnson also states, “Hemp is an all- natural, solar-powered, soil-enriching, multi-use, ancient plant that is being newly appreciated.”
A rebirth in the hemp industry will create jobs for farmers and will also assist in regenerating our environment with safer fuels and oils. Hemp helps control soil erosion and provides a food source as well. Hemp seeds, for instance, are more nutritious than soybeans. Hemp has many positive qualities to enhance the homestead. Fuels produced from hemp emit 50% less air pollution than fossil fuels. The number of industrial products made from hemp is staggering. It has been referred to as, “the little engine
For many years, hemp has been known as a wonder crop, one that helps restore soil fertility. It grows well without any pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. Hemp is also a valuable resource for carbon sequestration. Its roots absorb CO2 from the atmosphere as it grows. Hemp also aids in regenerative efforts by returning the carbon to the soil. It increases the microbial content of the soil and serves as its own natural weed deterrent.
Hemp’s deep roots hold soil and prevent compaction. It discourages water runoff into waterways and ground water. As a result, hemp can be grown on the same piece of land for a long time without causing reduction or depletion of yield.
Farmers growing hemp must consider the varying state statutes that oversee the climate, soil type, rainfall, and seeds necessary for a thriving crop. A new grower needs quite a bit of information at the beginning of any hemp production. Each state has its own rules, fees, and paperwork.
Regulations must be followed regarding licensing, growing, processing, and shipping. Facts concerning the transportation of seeds across state lines, the acquisition of viable seeds and contracts with processing companies need to be explored. However, all of the unknown information is readily available through many sources.
Sonny Perdue, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Web Page ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/hemp
Are you interested in growing hemp on your homestead?
Originally published in Countryside July/August 2020 and regularly vetted for accuracy.