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Realities of industrial hemp production & contracts discussed at FUSION conference

Realities of industrial hemp production & contracts discussed at FUSION conference
Credit USDA

As important as industrial hemp is on a national scale, most Utah farmers and ranchers are much more interested in the Utah perspective of what’s happening with hemp inside the state. That’s why we’re bringing you the lowdown on three industrial hemp events that occurred over a five-day period straddling the end of January and the beginning of February.

The first two events were back-to-back, hour-long industrial hemp presentations at the 2020 FUSION Conference held in St. George, Utah. Industry expert Mike Laca was invited to the conference to lead two presentations – the first dealing with how to get started and what to expect in the industrial hemp market, the second were more advanced topics outside of the simple growing of the crop.

Laca received a Master’s degree in Plant, Soil and Climate from Utah State University (USU), and he currently runs two companies out of Fallon, Nevada: Desert Hemp and Northern Nevada Ag Consulting. And although he grew 73 acres of Industrial Hemp in 2019, it’s the consulting work that sees Laca visiting with clients throughout the Western U.S. 

In addition to the Hemp presentations held during FUSION 2020, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) partnered with USU and its Department of Plant, Soil and Climate to produce a sold-out, half-day Utah Industrial Hemp Seminar the beginning of February at the Sandy campus of Salt Lake Community College. 

What follows below are a series of interlaced highlights captured at the three discussions we hope you will find informative. 

 

An Explosion of Hemp Production

One of the biggest challenges hemp growers faced in 2019 was the explosion in new producers in the market, Laca said, with 34 states licensing industrial hemp cultivation in 2019 and more than 510,000 acres in production during the year, an increase of over 450% versus 2018 acreage. 

Here in Utah, Miles Maynes (UDAF’s Cannabis Program Lead Inspector) said that during 2019 the state licensed 252 industrial hemp growers, and 66 industrial hemp processors. According to UDAF estimates, approximately 3.05 million industrial hemp plants were cultivated in Utah in 2019. 

During the year, Maynes said that UDAF inspectors collected 733 field samples, with an average dry weight cannabidiol (CBD) level of 5.3 percent and 0.28 percent THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) in those field samples. 

Unfortunately, 10.4 percent of those same field samples registered as “Hot” when tested by UDAF’s scientists, meaning the dry weight THC levels exceeded the 0.3 percent threshold set by the USDA in its current industrial hemp regulations. This led to the state-mandated destruction of roughly 155 acres of industrial hemp in 2019, representing over 310,000 plants. 

Although there are three strains of Cannabis — Sativa, Indica and Ruderalis — the 2018 Farm Bill defined the legal line between what constitutes marijuana and is hemp, with plants containing more than 0.3 percent THC labeled as marijuana and those at 0.3 percent THC or lower as industrial hemp. THC is the chemical compound that gets people “high”. From a physiological standpoint, THC is known as a “psychoactive” compound. 

Put into perspective, Mike Laca’s research found that 2019 costs to purchase industrial hemp seeds ranged from $1-$3 per seed, while clone costs varied from $3.50-$8 per plant. Conversely, UDAF’s Maynes suggested that industrial hemp prices at harvest ranged from $5-$20 per pound during the year (depending upon when products were sold). 

UDAF found that the most destroyed industrial hemp strains in 2019 were Abacus, Charlotte’s Web, Lifter, and Wife. 

Conversely, the 10 most popular strains cultivated in 2019 (by number of plots) were

  • Cherry Wine (96)
  • Cherry Blossom (68)
  • Wife (43)
  • Trophy Wife (29)
  • Trump—T1 (27)
  • Abacus (24)
  • Suver Haze (16)
  • Lifter (16)
  • Sour Candy Space (16)
  • Tokyo (12).

 

Industrial Hemp Challenges

As with most crops, industrial hemp have female and male plants, as well as plants that contain both female and male components. As a result, Laca and representatives from USU and UDAF all pointed out that the male plants and components that drive THC concentrations in all forms of cannabis, including industrial hemp. 

Unfortunately, in spite of what certain unscrupulous sellers might say, Laca taught that there is no way to guarantee that an industrial hemp seed will grow into a female plant, a fact that creates greater risk for the Utah farmer looking to save money up front.

 

Additional Industrial Hemp Highlights

Other highlights Laca shared during his presentations included:

Quick-flowering Indica dominant hybrids work well for higher elevation lands (up to 7,200 feet)


Ideal soils

  • Have high percolation
  • Lower pH (7.4 or lower)
  • Well-balanced CEC
  • Moderate organic matter (1.5—3%)

 

Over-fertilization of nitrogen leads to

  • Tissue burn
  • Over-elongation of stems (increased breakage)
  • Increased vegetative period that minimizes flower development.
    NOTE: Laca recommends most nitrogen fertilization “up front”

 

Watering

A common mistake is overwatering. Drip irrigation (with mulch) can go 12—17 days between sets, depending upon the time of year. All watering approaches will work for industrial hemp, depending upon

  • Strains planted
  • Concentration of plants per acre, and

 

For those focused on Flower/Bud production:

  • Consider flowers like fruit
  • Cut off nitrogen applications at first sign of stigma formation
  • Use a good bloom program containing phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients

 

Watch for the following pests

  • Corn Earworm
  • Root Aphid
  • Cannabis Aphid
  • European/Eurasian Hemp Borer
  • Flea Beetle
  • Cucumber Beetle
  • Leafhoppers
  • Red Shouldered Stink Bugs
  • Russet Mites
  • Two Spotted Mites.

 

Diseases and Other Challenges:

  • Fusarium root rot (typically tied to overwatering)
  • Botrytis and mildews (generally in hot humid environments, like greenhouses)
  • Witches Broom (phytoplasmas)
  • Soil compaction (keep it under 300psi)

 

Pollen spread risks from male plants

  • Corn, Sorghum, and Milo borders can help minimize pollen spread
  • Buckwheats and Mustards can help keep insects out of fields

 

For high wind areas, consider

  • Cover crops and/or
  • Border crops to create windbreaks

 

Temperatures

  • Hemp is frost tolerant, but hard freezes of 28? F or lower will kill plants
  • Consider crop insurance pre-grow
  • Vegetative hemp should recover well
  • Flowering plants will likely suffer large yield losses

Laca believes that the price paid per percentage of CBD in harvested industrial hemp will continue to drop for the foreseeable future. At the same time, he also feels that the market interest will continue to grow for THC-free, “Full Spectrum” cannabinoid oils. 

Additionally, Laca sees an increasing interest in industrial hemp grown to produce fiber, seed, building materials and other uses, including animal feed (an application not approved today).

 

A Closing Point from Utah State University

Although USU is not ready to publish the following as fact, their data shows a direct correlation between CBD and THC levels in Cannabis plants (including industrial hemp) throughout their lifecycle. That ratio is approximately 30:1 of CBD to THC, meaning that if the CBD level in an industrial hemp plant is 10 percent, then the THC level should be roughly 0.3 percent. 

According to Mitch Westmoreland, USU Graduate Research Assistant and Plant Sciences, this 30-to-1 CBD-to-THC ratio appears to hold true throughout the life of all Cannabis plants, even in plant leaves and in pre-flowering plants. If true, this suggests that growers would be able to monitor CBD/THC concentration levels of their industrial hemp levels throughout the grow season. This would also allow growers to potentially make cultivation adjustments (if necessary) to boost or lower the chemical composition of their plants before UDAF inspectors arrived at their fields. 

To Learn More

To learn more about Mike Laca’s hemp consulting services, visit https://bit.ly/31JIoy4. Additionally, information on the UDAF the cannabis program can be found at https://bit.ly/2SzSHQT, while information on USU’s hemp research can be found at https://psc.usu.edu/news/hemp

David Politis is a renowned business and marketing expert with over 35 years of experience, including nearly two years of working with UFBF and ag producers throughout the state of Utah. To learn more, visit www.DavidPolitis.com.



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