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.
I’ve often written and spoken on my belief that cannabis greenhouse operations should invest in the most sophisticated environmental control system (ECS) they can afford—perhaps even more than they think they can afford. This is because all efficiencies made to the structure or equipment will pale in comparison to this investment. It’s useful to integrate as much equipment as you can—not just heating and cooling, but also irrigation, ventilation, lighting and shading, energy usage and water treatment. Eliminating standalone systems will ensure that all equipment is working in concert according to the environment and your target setpoints. An underappreciated advantage of a fully integrated ECS is a reduction in training required to run the greenhouse systems.
A common question I often receive at facility startups is: What data should be logged after integrating these systems? There really is no downside to collecting as many data parameters as you can; data are just ones and zeros stored on a server. What can be daunting for your storage space is collecting data at too high a frequency, such as every minute. Ten-minute intervals typically suffice, while longer intervals are preferred for slow-changing data input, such as soil moisture.
From my 25 years of experience with advanced ECS systems, below are tips on which data parameters to collect in a greenhouse and why.
1. Keep tabs on atmospheric data for greater control in the greenhouse.
Greenhouse temperature, relative humidity, vapor pressure deficit, photosynthetic active radiation (PAR) and accumulated light (daily light integral) are all important metrics to track. PAR sensors will occasionally be shaded by the greenhouse rafters, ridge, purlins, suspended equipment, and glass and plastic, but weighting functions can be programmed to buffer large swings. Canopy temperature is extremely helpful to track, as plant stress and leaf wetness can be better avoided. Also collect outdoor temperature, relative humidity, precipitation, wind speed and direction, and light using a pyranometer that will measure beyond PAR to better anticipate heat load. Collecting weather data not only allows anticipatory control, but also allows you to customize seasonal adjustments for your region; the trickiest seasons to control greenhouse climate in the northern half of the U.S. are fall and spring, when the sunlight may be bright while air temperatures are low.
Monitoring atmospheric data allows you to tweak programming to optimize climate. The second advantage to monitoring the parameters described above is for troubleshooting your programming or equipment. You will learn the graphical signatures of specific problems and be able to remedy them faster. For example, I could remotely recognize when a low-speed motor of one of the greenhouse exhaust fans had failed by observing the air temperature pattern, even though the high-speed motor worked, making the fan appear to be functioning perfectly.
2. Rhizospheric data helps optimize growth.
Monitor substrate volumetric water content (VWC), either by a soil moisture sensor or weight scale. If your facility collects irrigation leachate, monitor substrate pH and electrical conductivity (EC). VWC is currently the best practice for initiating automatic irrigation to optimize growth.
3. Track equipment usage and cycles to time repairs.
One early mistake I made in my career was not paying attention to equipment cycling rates. Motorized shade curtains were moving over 100 times per day in partly cloudy weather, resulting in several motors burning out prematurely. Once I was aware of this, I reprogrammed them so they moved no more than eight times per day. Tracking usage minutes can aid in replacing bulbs in high-intensity discharge (HID) fixtures. Likewise, fan belts on exhaust fans can be replaced before breaking, and fans can be programmed to come on in different orders to spread wear by tracking accumulated minutes of operation.
4. Energy usage data helps improve efficiencies.
Many of us in the industry want to reduce energy use to preserve our planet’s climate, so it makes good business sense to track usage and demonstrate a commitment to improving production efficiency (this can be done by measuring grams of flower per kilowatt hour, or kWh). But energy tracking can be tricky, as it involves sub-metering your facility (having more than one electric meter) to get more granular data to validate conservation strategies. At the very least, try to sub-meter your facilities’ operations separately: cultivation, processing, packaging, etc. Ideally, one or more flower rooms would be sub-metered where the impact of different equipment or programming could be compared.
5. Monitor water and fertilizer usage to minimize contamination.
The value of our nation’s water supply is at the front of many of our minds given the images of drought in the West. Even where water is abundant, we need to protect local waterways and aquifers from irrigation runoff that might taint them. Therefore, it is valuable to monitor water usage, pH, EC and status of our water treatment systems. Two large sources of waste are brine from reverse osmosis purification systems and “bleed-off” valves of evaporative pad systems used to prevent scaling (calcium buildup) on cooling pads. Using data collection, I confirmed that water usage from evaporative cooling pad systems was far greater than summer irrigation demand and was able to curtail this waste.
Robert Eddy is the former Purdue University Plant Growth Facilities manager and the founder of CEA Consultancy LLC.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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