The Challenges of Hemp Farming for CBD

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To help educate both new growers and consumers about the hemp CBD supply chain, here’s a look at some of the challenges farmers face setting out to supply this wonderful cannabinoid.

Goal of This Article

Hemp for Fitness gets asked a ton of questions regarding their CBD products. The vast majority revolve around supply chain issues. A handful of examples would be:

  • Where do you source your hemp from?
  • How are your products made?
  • Do you conduct your own extractions?
  • Who farms the hemp you use?

People want to know more about what a quality hemp supply chain looks like to better ensure the CBD-rich products they buy are clean, safe, and effective. What follows should help put America’s current hemp industry into perspective – for both aspiring hemp farmers and consumers alike.

Introduction

Alright, let’s start with a bit of good news. Here in mid-June 2019, so far the implementation of state-level hemp provisions in accordance with the 2018 Farm Bill is going exceedingly well. Honestly the genuine U.S. hemp industry is far ahead of the bureaucracy whether you look at fiber and seed cultivars, or the newly-classified female hemp strains bred specifically for CBD.

Part of it has to do with a deluge of paperwork as an army of entrepreneurs, farmers, small startups and corporations dive into this new agricultural revolution (Hemp for Fitness has been around since 2014). Acreage for hemp CBD is exploding across the nation, yet at this moment we’re still waiting on the USDA to release their official guidelines…

Have we reached peak CBD?

Pfft…no. What a laughable idea. We’ve barely gotten started, chiefly evidenced by the general public’s stubborn ignorance of cannabis and what it takes to get a Hemp for Fitness CBD Tincture from the field into a well-formulated bottle in your gym bag, purse, your car’s middle console, etc.

Yes, hemp farming for CBD is the next big cash crop for small-scale farmers from New York to Washington State, a once-a-century kind of opportunity… but two considerations:

  1. Hemp Importation & Tariffs: Chatter continues emerging – we should gather support necessary and convince Ol’ Uncle Sam to put tariffs on international hemp for a few years. Why should America continue to let foreign countries flood our markets with their hemp and/or CBD extracts when we’re just getting our industry up and running? Hopefully this will become a reality soon and chances look good as tariffs seem to be in fashion.
  2. The Threat of Over-Centralization: Recent headlines have been littered with stories concerning the regulatory crackdown on American internet centralization with Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon in congressional crosshairs. Let’s hope our hemp industry doesn’t become completely dominated by gargantuan corporations shouldering out small farmers and independent collectives. Hemp CBD can revitalize and once again give serious relevance to small farming.

We’re learning together and still at ground floor so those getting involved on the farming side stand a good chance of generating decent cash as long as their crop makes it through to harvest and they’ve got someone to sell it to.

  • Farmers interested in CBD cannabis as a supplemental or side-crop, not the costs and hoops required to grow for recreational purposes, or THC-dominant cannabis.
  • Farmers looking to add a specialty crop to their menu or replace one that’s less attractive like tobacco.
  • Farmers keen on riding the early hemp train who don’t have the larger acreage often necessary to make good money through male hemp seed and fiber.
  • Farmers looking to leverage the already existing resources of both themselves and their farming communities.
  • Farmers who enjoy experimentation with new crops.

Anyhow, let’s start looking at the challenges new farmers and providers face and through these challenges develop a better understanding.

Lingering Stigma & General Public Ignorance

Heard a great joke on a hemp podcast the other day,

“What’s the difference between recreational cannabis and CBD hemp?”

The answer’s a couple weeks…

Or maybe just a little too much environmental stress in the field, a dishonest seed seller, an intense soil deficiency, incongruent genetics for the area, and so on. The idea here is that cannabis is cannabis, regardless of how many new classifications we create.

  • Hemp is cannabis, from the flowering plant family Cannabaceae.
  • Cannabis can be male, female, or hermaphroditic.
  • Classic ‘Hemp’ has traditionally going back millennia been male for seed and fiber. Male hemp pumps the brunt of all of its power into these assets rather than cannabinoids. Female cannabis creates the terpene and cannabinoid-rich flowers or buds.
  • Everything changed with modern ‘Hemp’ thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill which classifies hemp as including both male and female cannabis with equal to or less than 0.3% THC content.
  • New CBD extracts to be legal are designed to come from female cannabis (classified as Marijuana back in 1937) with low THC.

Make sense? To simplify things a bit, just remember that generally speaking male cannabis = fiber, seed, hurd and pollen. Female cannabis = terpene and cannabinoid rich biomass or buds. Does male hemp produce buds? Yes. It’s incredibly seedy and has far less cannabinoids than female flowers. You can derive CBD from it, but it’s implausible on a small scale. From here cannabis genetics get REALLY complicated, but those are the basics.

It’s all just cannabis folks.

In America now, whether male or female, if it’s below 0.3% THC it’s ‘Hemp’. Once it goes above this threshold it becomes recreational (Marijuana) cannabis.

Overall Hemp CBD Farming Goals

Farming hemp for CBD is presently high-risk and will continue to be. The first challenge for farmers is clearly envisioning and then constructing their supply chain.

  • If the goal’s to put a few acres to use and see substantial returns, what does their unique supply chain look like without much widely-accepted systemization?
  • Who will they sell the biomass to, should they set up their own extraction facility? Or, which extractor will they work with and to produce what exactly?
  • What are their buyer’s demands in terms of CBD content and the level of ‘full spectrum’ or ‘whole plant’ vs. isolate CBD on a reliable basis?
  • Where will genetics come from? Are they specific to the area?

So…many…questions arise when one starts thinking of how to transform land into a hemp CBD farm. Farmers need to make money with their crops, but first must iron out where that money will be coming from and for what…exactly…if the growing and harvesting goes well.

Access to Banking & Financing

Right now this is still a problem for less well-funded and connected farmers who missed the ‘Pilot Program’ phase of the hemp growing movement between 2014-2019. America’s still waiting for the USDA to create its cultivation program before new legitimate businesses can get access to conventional funds…which doesn’t make sense. More proof the industry itself is growing by orders of magnitude faster than the bureaucracy (although ‘they’ are very much on board and trying to move faster). Soon the U.S.Treasury will issue banking guidance. We’re also still waiting on full FDA regulation of hemp CBD.

Point being, for small farmers looking to get involved in hemp CBD, it may be somewhat of a chore opening a NEW account. If they already have a history with their bank under a general farming account it should be less of an issue. However, if they choose to put ‘CBD’ or ‘Cannabidiol’ anywhere on official banking paperwork this could cause some trouble.

Hemp CBD Farming Isn’t Cheap!

While the land requirements can be as small at 1 to 5 acres, a ton goes into the process. A crew will be necessary. genetics sourcing, greenhousing for beginning life stages, outdoor soil preparation, transplanting, field maintenance and oversight, treatments with acceptable (non-chemical) fertilizing methods, pest control, harvesting, crop testing for cannabinoid content (internally, through the state, and via third parties) and initial post-harvest processing then potentially into extraction, more testing, formulation, packaging, production, and marketing…whew!

Should even one thing go wrong causing THC content to spike above the 0.3% mark…boom…100% crop failure and near total loss of investment.

Over the last couple years I’ve tried to keep tabs on hemp CBD farming in states like Oregon, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky, and this happens for a large variety of reasons. Nonetheless, most farmers learn and keep pushing forward because of primarily these three reasons:

  1. They or someone close to them has experienced first hand the positive impacts of hemp CBD supplementation.
  2. They enjoy the challenge and develop a deep respect for the plant, making huge strides in following harvests.
  3. They attract interested parties to get involved with their venture and the monetary outlook is still shining bright.

Speaking of which…

Strategic Industry Partnerships

In an ideal world, before a farmer puts starters into pots in their greenhouse they should already have partnerships with at least a biomass buyer. But how about all the other touch points along the supply chain, depending on how deeply into production and manufacturing they’re interested in going. Outside business partners, investors, extractors and processors, new hemp-specific departments within their state’s department of agriculture are necessary, along with emerging hemp associations, crop insurance providers, and local law enforcement.

Genetics

What aspiring farmers and consumers need to understand is that female hemp for CBD genetics are new! If you’re growing for fiber and seed, it’s FAR easier to source genetics, but not with female hemp for CBD. This is a fresh ball game. To cut risks, many farmers are trying as best they can to source through their state, but many states have yet to bring themselves into alignment with the 2018 Farm Bill stipulations and build a hemp program. Others are more focused on fiber and seed, with the CBD can being kicked around.

Generally speaking these cultivars are roughly a decade old, that’s it.

  • Are the genetics stable or unstable? Meaning, how predictable are harvests?
  • How evenly do crops mature?
  • Does the field look uniform or like there’s an assortment of cultivars?
  • Are the genetics bred for the farmer’s region?
  • How many males are springing up in the field threatening the crop?
  • Is the CBD content in dry biomass what it’s supposed to be?

The #1 threat is of course high THC content. Remember, we’re talking about taking what was ALWAYS high-THC cannabis genetics and getting them to produce far less, while pumping out CBD (with growing demand for other non-intoxicating cannabinoids like CBG, CBC, and CBN).

For Consumers: You may be using CBD products right now, but do you know whether they’re actually whole plant (raw plant extract), full spectrum (less chlorophyll, waxes, and other non-cannabinoid components) or isolate? The only reason it matters is because CBD is going to be more effective when taking it in a less processed extract containing more of the plant’s other synergistic non-cannabinoid compounds. But for farmers, growing for full spectrum is risky! To cut risks, extracting the CBD alone and getting rid of everything else makes sense. Once you get into larger production levels, it makes exponentially more sense because of the insane costs involved in ensuring you get a true uniform full spectrum from new hemp CBD genetics.

Industry Shifts

The demand for both male and female hemp is going into the stratosphere and won’t come down for some time – most predict around the mid 2020s we’ll begin seeing stabilization and less growth as state programs and CBD production regions are etched out (more on this in a moment). Shifts of concern are the rise of ‘Big Corpo-Cannabis’ vs. smaller startup and family operations, and (hopefully) a decrease in associated production costs.

Of all the nutraceuticals that’ve gone mainstream in the last century, CBD is going to be among the most impactful. Will consumers give the brunt of their support to big brands selling in big box stores, or shift more towards smaller outfits? When it comes to seed and fiber, it makes more sense for larger corporations because those are huge production massive-plot crops. But hemp CBD farming is far more like, well, growing grapes for wine; artisan, highly-specialized, and a skilled trade.

The Permitting Process

Relative to the recreational cannabis permitting process, most farmers say it’s pretty easy but definitely not cheap. Again, many state-level programs are extremely new, with newly-hired staff taking on big tasks. State and county reps are being bombarded. With CBD production the paperwork will be substantial along with ongoing fees for in-field testing, registration with newly-formed agencies, certifications, and more.  

Farming Practices – Soil & Plant Treatments

Consumers want organic hemp extracts. U.S. farmers at this point are forced to grow organically as there are no officially recognized treatments which have been okayed for use on hemp crops.

Female cannabis genetics are fragile, agile, and adaptive. Such a marvelous plant, and while resilient to a degree of environmental stress, THC is a defensive response. Guarding against it can be finicky and meticulous at first. Responsible farmers take the time to understand the plant’s basic needs in terms of nutrient content, water drainage, and obviously sunlight. From spacing and using soil coverings to protect undercarriages, to employing organic pest control methods…getting that high-CBD biomass output quickly becomes a form of art.

Systems in Place

How many systems must be in place to go from seed or mother in the greenhouse, to a golden green extract in a retail-ready tincture or edible? Most farmers are retrofitting equipment and tapping into their tinkering skills to engineer tools and machinery to help reduce costs while increasing output without access to systematized equipment. When it comes to extraction, we’ve got that down to a science, but is there one close by?

For Consumers: Arguably it’s a wise move to look for vertically-integrated providers like Hemp for Fitness. Meaning providers who are either farming their hemp plants themselves or directly connected via state-side extractors. Make no mistake, mass-produced hemp CBD products are already finding their way onto shelves near you (and all over the place online). If you’d prefer something with a bit more craftmanship-quality, you’ll need to go digging for it. There’s no app yet.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!

Let’s talk about crew members. Once again I go back to wine making. Do you think that just anyone can maintain and work a vineyard? Absolutely not. On the hemp CBD farm there will need to be specialists working with the genetics in the greenhouse, people to help with transplanting, removing males from the field, testing and maintaining soil, watering, and harvesting. Most farmers I’ve listened to are incorporating hand-cutting plants at harvest, then a little time to sit in the field (if it’s not raining), hang-drying in unique dehumidifying/circulation setups, and then hand-trimming to get the final buds for biomass.

Sounds pretty awesome for small business and family farms, right? Let’s try to keep it that way – and just so you know, Hemp for Fitness intends on becoming a fully employee-owned company as soon as possible.

The Testing Bonanza

The idea of ‘product testing’ for consumers is relatively new, but not for farmers. When was the last time you checked to see how your supermarket bread is tested? How about that last soft drink? In most other products, consumer take the idea of testing for granted.

With hemp CBD it’s all so brand new! We’ve already talked about how new it’s going to be for states to implement wide-scale in-field testing for hemp CBD growers. The farmers themselves need to have means of testing their own plants and soil to stay legal, to check for nutrient deficiencies, and to track what cultivation methods are working best. Extractors must be able to test and ensure they’re capturing the CBD without too much THC or any potential toxins.

State program which may not be up and running yet will likely provide some labs to turn to, but maybe not. Nationally, there isn’t a huge assortment to choose from yet either.

Consumers, you need to take steps to verify what you’re putting into your body beyond simply reading the words ‘All our products are third party tested!”.

  • Yeah, by whom? Are they a reputable lab?
  • How updated are they? How easy or hard is it to see your product’s results?
  • Are these tests showing crop data or product data? There’s a difference.

To cap this article off let’s look at how by 2025 American will likely have split up into hemp regions – some for seed, some for fiber, and some for flower.

The Regional Carving – Proximity to Outdoor Male Hemp Crops

Male hemp pollination drift is a serious concern for hemp CBD growers. Male hemp produces a ton of the stuff (great forage for honey bees) so as seed and fiber crops pop up pollen’s going to be flying all over the place jeopardizing any female cannabis farming operations nearby. Just one tiny sprinkling of pollen on a female and cannabinoid levels can plummet. This pollen has been said to travel anywhere from  5 to over 15 miles!

Any farmers looking to get into hemp CBD must, absolutely MUST make sure to keep a close eye on any other farmers in their area who want to get into male hemp farming. There’s no solutions yet. It’s going to have to be figured out amongst farmers, and so it shall be.

In Conclusion

This summer I’m working on a 120-acre estate with an incredible vineyard, and know what kind of work goes into creating a fabulous product. A ton! Hopefully this article helps some consumers out there make better choices, and anyone considering setting up a small hemp CBD operation take on the risks with more clarity.

Thanks for your time.

Damien and Marjan