Timing is without a doubt the most crucial factor when
harvesting your hemp crop. Growers must let the Wisconsin Department of
Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection know when they plan to harvest in advance.
The optimal time to harvest is when your plants test high in CBD, yet still
under the 0.3% THC threshold allowed by the state. Predicting when this optimal
cannabinoid content will take place is a tough task. The following tips can
help give you an understanding of calculating the proper date.
Although many farmers simply harvest after a set amount of
days since first sprout, the top CBD farmers will track their grow with spreadsheets
developed through testing plants along the growth phase. Getting your plants
tested on occasion throughout the growing season may take time and energy, but
it’s sure worth the reward. The more data you collect on your crop’s CBD and
THC content, the easier it will be to predict this optimal date. With some
basic algebra, growers can use this data to find the slope, and apply this slope
to the calendar. Once the optimal date is determined, contacting the DATCP one
month in advance will give them enough notice to have your fields tested prior
to this date. It’s a safe bet to pull the harvest date back a week or so once
you’ve calculated it, just in case the data is off. If plants do run “hot”, or over the 0.3% THC
limit, the state will force the whole field to be destroyed.
Beyond the harvest date, growers should be prepared for
harvest with enough labor and equipment for the size of their fields. If your grow
is on the smaller side (10 acres or less), hand cutting the plants at the root
with machetes or loppers is your best bet. For large scale operations, some farmers
use modified harvesters for crops such as corn to cut the plants off halfway up
the stalk. This leaves the bottom half to decompose into the soil and
replenishes many of the nutrients used during the grow. I hope this shed some
light on the hemp harvesting process, stay on the lookout for the following step
in this blog series; Drying.
Once your hemp plants are in the ground and begin to take
root, it’s mostly a waiting game until harvest approaches. For crops that were
planted with regular seed, identifying and removing male plants is absolutely
key for a high-quality harvest. Growers who fail to do so will see an over 40%
reduction in cannabinoids (CBD), and the pollinated plants will convert their
energy from growing larger and more potent towards producing seeds. Pollinated
crops will result in an over 25% loss in biomass, which is all the more reason
to plant using feminized genetics.
As stated in earlier posts throughout this series, farmers looking to stay proactive during this time should investigate for any wildlife that may be harming their crop. Zero insecticides, fungicides or pesticides can be used since the chemicals will be converted into the plant’s oil profile and make the flower completely worthless. Insects can be an issue in certain areas, although the majority of Wisconsin growers have seen little threat from these pests so far.
If a drought occurs and there’s no irrigation in place, you should work out some sort of system to keep your plants watered. Stressed plants are proven to yield significantly less than those that aren’t stressed, so the overall goal during the growing phase is to provide as least a stressful environment as realistically possible. Aside from keeping your crop watered, I’d highly suggest investing in weeding equipment such as weed whackers, machetes, clippers, etc. These will be vital to keeping assuring the soil’s nutrients are going strictly to your plants. One common point of feedback from Wisconsin farmers who grew hemp in these past couple years is that it was much more labor than they had anticipated, so be fully prepared to work and/or have extra hands at your disposal.
assuring that your soil is prepared to grow hemp for CBD, the next step is to
find the proper genetics to plant. This is arguably the most influential factor
towards the overall health and quality of your plants. Good genetics can
produce below low-quality flower if grown with carelessness, but below-average
genetics are incapable of growing the top-shelf buds we’re all aiming for. The Wisconsin
Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection has a list of
approved seeds for farmers to choose from.
There are multiple options to consider when choosing genetics, such as unfeminine seed, feminized seed, or clones. While unfeminine seed is the cheapest option, be aware that male plants will sprout and potentially seed out the female plant’s flower, drastically reducing the quality. The following option is to plant strictly feminized seed. Although this is option is nearly twice as expensive as unfeminized seed, it reassures that little to no male plants will be present within the crop. The third and final option is to find a nearby farmer in your area who is selling clones. Clones are a reliable way to find identical genetics that thrive in your area, all the while still maintaining a strictly feminized crop. Growing with clones nearly guarantees a high-quality harvest, but it’s by far the priciest choice with each acre of clones costing around $8,000 plus labor.
When deciding which genetics option to move forward with, you
should always investigate who else is planning to grow hemp in your local area
and which genetics they’re using. In the case that you were to invest thousands
of extra dollars for a feminized option, there’s always a risk that your plants
will still be pollinated by males from a different crop in the area via winds
or bees. This step in the growing process is key for a quality harvest, which
goes to show that planning months before and doing your research is absolutely
vital when growing hemp for CBD.
Wisconsin saw a massive breakthrough in 2017 when the federal government passed the 2018 Farm Bill, allowing farmers throughout the country to legally grow and process industrial hemp. While this was a great step forward, relatively inexperienced Wisconsin farmers were faced with the difficult task of learning how to properly grow the crop. This post will be the first of a series in which I’ll try my best to explain the most efficient process of growing hemp in Wisconsin.
First and foremost, farmers must apply for a license to grow through Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP). More information on licensing can be found through this link. As far as the actual growing, the first step towards farming industrial hemp is to check for adequate soil.
There’s a few requirements the soil should meet if you’re looking to take a hemp crop from average to high quality plants. Hemp thrives in loamy soil that is drained well. The ideal acidity (pH) of the soil is somewhere between 7 and 7.5. Hemp is vulnerable to damage via soil compaction during its first stages of growth, so the less clay in the soil the better.
As for nutrients, hemp responds well to the typical optimal levels of nitrogen, phosphate, phosphorus, and potassium. If your soil is lacking any of these nutrients, it’s suggested to add the lacking element accordingly. One of the biggest struggles hemp farmers deal with is the inability to use chemical fertilizers or herbicides. Since the plant’s cannabidiol (CBD) will be extracted into oil after harvest, hemp must remain fully organic throughout the growing process. It’s encouraged to use organic fertilizers such as cow or chicken manure to fully prepare the soil for the grow. I hope this post educated those who are interested in adding to Wisconsin’s emerging hemp market, feel free to comment with any questions and be on the lookout for the next step’s post in the near future!