With nearly three decades of experience growing organic cannabis, Tom Lauerman has become affectionately known in the industry as “Farmer Tom.” Lauerman, however, is more than a farmer—he’s also carved out his identity in the industry as an advocate, speaker and educator.
When the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill) legalized hemp, Lauerman added it to the list of crops grown on his 5-acre farm in Vancouver, Wash. The crop’s legalization also allowed Lauerman to add to his educational lineup.
Last year, Lauerman founded the virtual Hemp Farming Academy. Using lessons he’s learned from his own growing experience, as well as from talking to hemp farmers around the country, Lauerman created a course comprised of 10 video modules that teach farmers the ins and outs of growing hemp for cannabidiol (CBD). The course also includes access to a private Facebook group to ask questions and interact with Lauerman and other farmers.
Here, Lauerman breaks down the top issues he saw this growing season, along with tips on how to solve them, based on the ten modules included in his course.
What’s Needed: Equipment and Supplies“There's a lot of shady businesses going on out there, and we want to make sure that when we're recommending a piece of equipment or showing you how to use it, it’s the top of the line and we've done the research on it. A lot of times, people go to shows and events and get caught up in something that may or may not work for them. We suss out the good and bad players and the quality equipment and products because everything's changing every year.”
Genetics: All About Seed“Do your due diligence and verify the quality of the seed. When you're buying the seed, you have to talk to two or three farmers who've had success growing that seed before in your region. Make sure you have at least two to three certificates of analysis that prove these genetics are stable and able to grow under the current limits set forth by the government.
“Next, you're looking at a germination rate. You want to make sure that when you're buying the seed for $1 to $2, you're actually getting the value of that seed, and if it's a feminized seed, that you're not getting a male. You want to make sure those things—both the germination rate and the feminized rate—are well up into the 90s.
“I think people were in a hurry last year, and they didn't do their due diligence to find good, stable genetics out there that are going to give you the results you’re looking for. You don’t want to spend on the front end and then at the end of the year, have a hot crop [a crop that tests above 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)] like we’ve seen a lot of. I believe that a lot of the hot crops are out there because of the genetics that were purchased.”
Field Preparation“A lot of farmers here on the West Coast got so greedy that they stuck their plants super close together. What happens is if you put those plants so close together, there's no air ventilation between the plants. There’s a lot of stagnant air, and with stagnant air you have mold.
“We've set up more like a vineyard style, so I'm doing a 3-foot row of plants with 8 to 10 feet in between [rows]. This allows me to get my equipment up and down, it allows for air flow and it allows me to do the work with ease and find problems. If your plants are too close together and you're walking your field looking for males or mold or powdery mildew or some sort of a bug infestation, you really don't have a good eye on what's going on with the plants. When you put your plants too close together, you're going to have test issues also.”
Seed Propagation & Germination“Germination rate is pretty standard on all seeds and basically that tells you that if you plant 100 seeds, how many are going to germinate and how many are going to fail. Again, the seed quality is everything, and you really have to get the germination rate [in the 90s]. If you can get certified seeds from a state university, like Colorado, then your chances of having a successful crop are way higher than if you're just going to buy from somebody who has a low price.
“As far as propagation, if you don’t have a facility, it’s better to send [seeds] off to a professional facility and they’ll do the work for you. If you don't have a greenhouse or the skills, you buy the seeds and then you find a nursery that does propagation work. They'll put them in the trays and grow them out for you. And then they can schedule it out so that when you're ready, the plants are the perfect height to go into the ground.”
The Ins and Outs of Irrigation
“I’m a big T-tape fan, which is drip irrigation that waters the beds where the plants are. Overhead watering can be tricky. If your plants are really close together and you’re overhead watering, like on a pivot watering system, we see problems with those plants being too close. Again, there’s no ventilation. Also, you really want to water in the morning so the plant has time to dry off during the day so that water doesn't sit on the plant overnight, which can cause mold.”
Lay Rows Like the Pros“The common way out there [to lay rows] is a black mulch and T-tape. The mulch keeps weeds from coming out. Weed suppression is a big deal, because there's a lot of different weeds everywhere that come into your farm on people's tires, blowing through the wind, many different ways. Again, when you're lining your beds up, give enough space between the plants so they have proper ventilation.”
Transplanting Seedlings“When transplanting out of the seeds, there's two different ways. A lot of people just put the soil right into the trays and add the seed in there, but what we've found over the years is that peat pots are super handy. They're great for transplanting, especially in large scale because the dirt isn't flying all over the place and it keeps the root core stable, together and not disturbed. If you disturb the roots too much, it can take up to a week to 10 days for the plant to recover and start to grow. The only thing you need to do when you're transplanting [from peat pots] is if there aren’t a lot of roots coming out of the bottom, make sure you rip that mesh up the sides so you have a better chance of that plant being successful. If the roots are protected and you rip up the sides, you won't have as much transplant shock time to have to deal with.”
Fertilization For Growth“We found hemp is like growing corn, so it likes a lot of nitrogen up front and then less nitrogen on the backside. We like to use fish emulsion or fish powder—it really works well for growth. We're also really big on foliar feeding with fish and kelp on the leaves because the leaves uptake the nutrients. It goes right to where they need it, and they don’t need to draw it up through the root system.”
“Daily duties include getting out there and walking your rows, looking for bug infestations, looking for any kind of irregularity in areas, looking for males and making sure everything's getting water.”
Harvest“The most important thing is having the space to dry. That's where the big bottleneck has been is drying and storage the last couple of years. Five acres can fill an enormous facility pretty easily. You really need to know where it's going to go, and you’ve got to have a place for it to sit, or it's going to go bad. When you lay out your season, you’ve got to work backwards. Don't get ahead of yourself and grow more than you think you can, or the plants will rot in the fields like they did this year.”