A dirt road winds back into a 250-acre property in rural Kelloggsville, Ohio—the northeast corner of the state—past farm equipment and natural flora. In a fenced 2-acre section of the property, David and Deidre Snyder grow their cannabinoid hemp. It’s September, and they’re hand-trimming White CBG (cannabigerol) flower, storing it in a large bin.
It’s clear that manicuring the large, frosty buds requires care and effort, but, Deidre explains, the hangers-on further down the stems get tossed. The Snyders are dialed in and focus on quality, not quantity, at their operation, Lost River Farm.
They grew 1,000 hemp plants in 2021. As of press time, they were finishing up a successful growing season with 750 Topaz CBD plants and 250 White CBG plants, mostly for smokable flower and some set to go to extraction. But they say they’d grow half as many plants if the state allowed fewer than the mandated 1,000.
In 2020, the Snyders’ first year farming hemp, they grew 500 more plants than in 2021. That downsizing tracks with broader state figures. Ohio’s hemp program was established following the passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill), and growers planted their first crops in 2020, but the market has already seen some contractions since then.
Acreage figures and the total number of growers are both down from last year. And this year’s growers by and large have not come close to fulfilling their planned licensed acreage. In 2020, 195 growers were licensed to plant 2,067 acres but ended up growing on only 491 acres, according to Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) data. In 2021, 179 growers licensed 1,498 acres and planted on only 272 of those, per ODA.
Ohio is a large farming state, with most of its production focused on corn and soybeans, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 2020, Ohio ranked 14th among states with the highest agricultural receipts—or cash income produced by commodity sales—per the agency.
This year, more than 227 outdoor acres of Ohio’s 272 total acres of hemp were dedicated to “floral plants,” according to ODA. (Another 260,795 floral plants were grown indoors.) However, hemp fiber and grain farmers reported to the agency that they planted a whopping 30.7 million plants on just 44.96 acres. And when asked if existing farm infrastructure could be used for grain processing, ODA Hemp Program Director David Miran said, “[U]se of this infrastructure has been demonstrated at various field trials across the country.” ODA just has not seen it firsthand, he added.
Adjustments and Learning Curves
For the Ohio farmers Hemp Grower spoke with, the pros of growing have outweighed the cons, though it hasn’t been easy.
The Snyders say one challenge has been the 15-day window Ohio allots to growers between the date the state collects samples and the planned harvest date. This is on par with the USDA interim final rule but more stringent than the 30-day window allowed by the USDA final rule, which took effect in March.
While navigating some of these difficulties—including sampling costs and timelines, a rainy July and caterpillars (which they control with nematodes early in the season and then by hand)—David says he and Deidre are looking ahead to growing their customer base for smokable hemp, tinctures and kief via smoke shops, e-commerce and advertising their product at events.
In Montville Township, Ohio—also in the Northeast region of the state, southwest of Kelloggsville and east of Cleveland—Dawn Brace and her family brought previous farming experience to hemp.
Dawn, a local real estate agent, her husband, CEO James W. Brace, a heavy equipment operator, and their son, Jonathan Brace, a Berry College biochemistry graduate, make up Hemp & Honey. The family-run operation leases property for 1 acre of hemp production, but has also tapped maple syrup from more than 400 trees on a 60-acre property that James’ family owns and where he used to grow hay.
In 2021, their first year growing hemp, they planted 1,000 hemp plants—500 of the Golden Kush CBD cultivar and 500 of the Serenity CBG variety for smokable flower and extraction, says Dawn, operations field manager. (They also began beekeeping this year, hence the business name.)
They sowed their first plants in a small greenhouse, then transplanted them into the field once they grew to about 6 to 8 inches tall, Dawn says.
Long-lasting Ohio winters can also complicate planning and planting. Every year, disproportionate amounts of lake-effect snow fly upon the “snowbelt,” a target of Great Lakes winter-weather systems that stretches across multiple states and includes parts of Northeast Ohio.
In Montville Township, it snows well into spring. This year, the business was fortunate, because the weather was warm for planting in May. “It was 90 [degrees] that week,” Dawn says. “That’s very unusual.”
Storms, snow, deer, heavy winds—these are things that just come with the territory.
“For our first year, I am very impressed with what we’ve done,” Dawn says. “We would have liked to have [the plants] a little bit taller. I think they adapted due to the wind, and they just stayed short and stout. But otherwise, they’re good.”
Not Immune to Industry Growing Pains
After growing and harvesting, selling hemp can prove especially difficult anywhere across the U.S. It’s no different in Ohio, says Benjamin Moidell, partner and CEO at Chagrin Valley Hemp Company (CVHC), a hemp processor, extractor and manufacturer. “Unfortunately, it’s currently a race to the bottom due to the oversupply of hemp material both in Ohio and across the country,” he says.
When asked if there have been any drawbacks for hemp growers in Ohio so far, Miran told Hemp Grower there have been issues, but they aren’t specific to the state. He noted there’s been a nationwide overproduction of hemp crops, adding that growers should secure contracts before they plant.
Moidell’s business is roughly 2,100 square feet with a 1,500-square-foot main production floor. He works with a handful of growers and about 40 retailers in the state. “To hear growers are struggling—to have them contact us and want to give us their material so that they can make space in their barn—is heartbreaking,” Moidell says.
Miran says the state was one of the first to have an operational plan approved by the USDA following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. But, he says, “Hemp is still a new industry in Ohio. The program will continue to grow and change as we learn more about producing the crop.”
The ODA does not require growers to conduct post-harvest testing, according to the agency’s website. However, when hemp product is under processor control, Ohio law requires testing laboratories to sample any hemp product for various criteria, such as potency, “[m]icrobial contaminants of public health concern,” mycotoxins, heavy metals and pesticides, before sale.
Testing can be surprisingly expensive for growers who are trying to sell material to licensed Ohio processors, Moidell says. “In order for us to support them and purchase their material and mitigate our risk as a business, we require that it’s shown that the material is compliant to the processing requirements prior to purchase,” he says.
Ohio hemp processors must follow the same standards as any food manufacturer in the state, Miran says, adding that processors’ adherence to safety and sanitation requirements provides end consumers with confidence when they purchase hemp products.
Growers, too, are hopeful they’ll be able to garner positive attention with their products while tending to valuable land.
“There’s a lot of farmland up here that just sits,” Dawn says. “Rather than it being sold and developed, let’s do something with it.”
Patrick Williams is the managing editor for Hemp Grower magazine.
Editor’s note: Read an extended version of this story here.
With the explosive growth seen in hemp cultivation over the last three years, many hemp farmers are learning the hard way that they need to secure their crop from both theft and herbivory damage. In some cases, high-grade hemp flowers may be mistaken for their intoxicating sibling, high-THC cannabis, and taken by thieves hoping to make a quick buck. In other cases, wandering herds of deer may decide they would like to stop for a snack. Outlined below are a few things you can do to ensure you have a secure and protected hemp crop.
1. Set up fencing.
Fencing is key to keep out trespassers that are both human and cloven-hoofed, including deer, elk, rogue goats, and other large herbivores. Fencing should be a minimum of 8 feet high (10 feet if you have problems with elk), which will keep most animal trespassers at bay. At Puffin Farm, we use an extruded plastic deer fence product that is ultraviolet-resistant, which prevents sun degradation, and reinforced on the bottom so it can be staked for extra protection. It costs about $1,000 per acre and is easy to install. Metal deer fencing is also an option and can be found in both stainless steel and galvanized metal. More expensive options include chain link or wood.
2. Increase your security with cameras.
If you need to take things to the next level, you can install cameras around the fence perimeter or at key locations such as gates. While we do not have a need to do this for our hemp crop, we do use cameras on our THC cannabis crop. Simple game cameras can be a good way to go if you want to see which uninvited animals or people are visiting, while a high-tech digital video recorder-based system like the ones used on cannabis farms can provide more extensive coverage and storage capabilities.
3. Consider installing an alarm system.
If you have high security needs, install outdoor alarm systems that use lasers or infrared cameras to detect motion and trigger a call to the authorities. These systems are quite expensive and require professional alarm companies with special capabilities, but they are an option if needed. We use one at our Seattle facility to secure our outdoor space there.
4. Guards are the best deterrent.
Having a constant physical presence is the best deterrent but is unrealistic for most farmers who cannot stay in their field 24/7. A professional security guard is an option, though it is quite pricey.
5. Dogs can present problems.
You need to be very careful if using dogs for security as they can present liability and insurance issues. A friendly farm dog who barks when strangers or animals come near is a good way to be warned about the presence of intruders or scare them off, but think twice before leaving out a dangerous or unsupervised dog.
Dr. Jade Stefano, ND, is co-founder and CEO at Puffin Farm, a Washington State sungrown cannabis and hemp producer and processor licensed since 2014.
As a recently legal industry in the U.S., hemp and its many facets are constantly evolving. We see it in the news regularly, from shifting regulations and an outpouring of research to volatile pricing and newly developed end markets.
What is perhaps less apparent is that the hemp crop and its uses have always been evolving—at least since the 1700s, when researchers were first attempting to characterize just what exactly this plant was.
That’s according to Robert C. Clarke and Git Skoglund, historians who have dedicated their careers to studying hemp and cannabis on a global scale. In their guest column this month, Clarke and Skoglund make an argument for why the term “hemp” may need to be expanded upon to more accurately portray all it encompasses. From humble beginnings as a crop cultivated by many for its seed and fiber, Cannabis—and what we today consider hemp—have surely taken on lives of their own.
One would think that after all that time (save for almost a century of prohibition in the U.S., which did not take place in some other parts of the world), the discovery of hemp’s many possibilities would be slowing down. In reality, it seems to just be getting started.
The cover story in this issue features researchers, attorneys and industry analysts on the frontlines of what is perhaps hemp’s most rapidly evolving component: minor cannabinoids. While a new cannabinoid seems to appear on the scene every few months, these developments are just beginning. Dr. Ethan Russo, M.D.—a board-certified neurologist, cannabis researcher, and CEO and founder of CReDO Science—estimates cannabis can produce around 150 different cannabinoids. Many of these have yet to be investigated.
“But what is really intriguing is, of the cannabinoids that have been researched so far, all of them have obvious medical applications and are quite distinct from one another in how they act. So, there is a tremendous amount yet to be learned here,” Russo tells writer Jolene Hansen.
Despite the unknowns of these minor cannabinoids, some have still made it to the marketplace, and the lack of regulations is causing concern for industry experts and lawmakers alike. (Read more about minor cannabinoids in the news, the science behind them and what the future holds for them.)
It’s an exciting time to be part of the hemp industry. These constant changes and uncertainties may be difficult to navigate, but they also present a plethora of opportunities you can use to your advantage. We’re pleased to bring you some of the leading names in the industry within this issue to help you do just that.
Theresa Bennett email@example.com
When the U.S. legalized hemp production in 2018, growers didn’t have a definitive or reliable cultivation guide to turn to. Primary among the many questions facing new hemp growers includes what cultivars to grow, when (and how often) to sample for cannabinoids and when to harvest.
In 2020, researchers, grower-cooperators and private laboratories across the Midwest collaborated in an effort to better understand production strategies and relative performance of hemp cultivars.
In short, this program provided hemp growers an opportunity to receive discounted cannabinoid analysis in exchange for structured data sharing. The data from these efforts, along with university station trials conducted in 2020, were fed into an interactive data visualization tool known as the Midwestern Hemp Database (MHD). That year, more than 130 growers participated, providing 779 sample submissions across 152 distinct variety entries. Here’s what we learned.
Growing Season Overview
Producers participating in the project established seedlings/clones in greenhouses and nurseries for several weeks prior to transplanting them into the field, a process that peaks in mid-June and extends into early July across the Midwest.
Across all entries into the MHD, average flowering initiation took place in early- to mid-August. We observed extreme heterogeneity within and between the photoperiod-sensitive cultivars, particularly when it came to flowering date, flowering uniformity and maturity. Some cultivars, for example, began flowering consistently within a short number of days, while others initiated flowering unevenly over a long period of time. Due to the non-uniformity of the flowering process, plants of the same cultivar could reach maturity at different points in the growing season, which could have adverse impacts on testing and harvesting strategies at the field level. On average, growers harvested varieties in late September and early October, about 45 days after flowering.
Data from the MHD shows that many cannabidiol (CBD)-dominant cultivars exhibit a near-linear relationship between total percentages of CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Given this presumed relationship, total CBD is often not able to surpass about 8% without exceeding the federal regulatory threshold of 0.3% total THC. This suggests cultivars with a stable CBD:THC (about 25:1) ratio throughout flowering will help maximize profitability while maintaining compliance. The reality is many hemp cultivars currently on the market will “go hot,” or have illegally high levels of THC, if not monitored appropriately—a quarter of the samples submitted into the MHD were above the 0.3% total THC regulatory limit.
One of the biggest mysteries among hemp growers was what causes a hemp plant to go hot. A 2020 study from Cornell University found that fields tend to go hot because of genetics, not because of environmental conditions or production practices. As such, heterogeneity across and within varieties can make agronomic performance and cannabinoid development unpredictable.
Testing and Sampling
As cannabinoids do not begin to develop rapidly until flowering starts, growers prefer to delay sampling until after terminal flowering to eliminate unnecessary testing costs. Sampling for cannabinoids begins upon flower initiation in mid-August, peaking in mid-September and slowly decreasing until harvest.
Across all entries in the MHD, the average harvest date is 45 days after flowering; a cross section of the cannabinoid data shows that by this period, 117 samples (15%) had exceeded the regulatory threshold for total THC. Perhaps even more concerning is that 61 samples (7.8%) exceeded the regulatory limit within 30 days after flowering. Growers must submit pre-harvest reports no fewer than 30 days prior to harvest—this means in some cases, growers would have to submit pre-harvest reports before flowering even begins in order to comply with federal, state or tribal regulations. Without previous production history for a given cultivar, this is a tremendous challenge. Cannabinoids accumulating more rapidly as flowering progresses makes it even more difficult to make harvest-timing decisions. For these reasons, researchers from the MHD encourage growers to test early and often following flower initiation to ensure compliance, especially when experimenting with unfamiliar cultivars.
Perhaps as important as when to sample is where to sample. Preliminary research conducted at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research and referenced in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final rule on hemp indicates that THC concentration is greatest in the top third of the plant when compared to the middle and bottom portions. Often, the most visually pleasing and largest buds form on the apical shoot of the plant, making growers reluctant to sample from that portion of the plant during in-season testing. Coupled with expected variation in flowering progression within cultivars, growers should be very conscious of where and when they take pre-harvest samples. Be sure to stick to the same sampling and testing protocols regulatory agencies use to assure accurate results. (See exact sampling protocol here.)
There is also currently a great deal of variation regarding sample collection, preparation and analysis across the U.S. This variation is leading to a great deal of disparity among laboratory results, which has problematic implications for growers wishing to track cannabinoids across the season using laboratories that are not approved under specific state or tribal rules.
Part of an ongoing effort by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is to encourage standardized analysis of a wide range of cannabis compounds. Overall, 116 laboratories participated in a NIST project designed to evaluate how cannabis products are being tested and labeled for various cannabinoids. The study showed some surprising results. While labs’ measurements of CBD, THC and precursors of various cannabinoids (like THCA or delta-9 THC) generally hovered around the known, accurate concentration levels, they still showed a wide range of results. This goes to show that growers should utilize approved laboratories when submitting samples for analysis prior to harvest to minimize variability and potential issues with compliance.
The MHD is intended as a resource for growers to use until more information about cultivar performance can be gathered. We encourage growers to think about how this information may help them in their production endeavors. A report summarizing the 2020 growing season findings and associated project details are available at the project website.
Phillip Alberti is a commercial agriculture educator with University of Illinois Extension. Phillip works in commercial crop production, and his areas of focus include hemp production and row crop production.
2020 Hemp Cultivation Map
Hemp Grower's interactive cultivation data map provides a state-by-state breakdown of acres grown, licenses issued and more for the 2020 growing season. View More