26 Mar Know Before You Grow Hemp Webinar, Questions and Answers
In typical HiLo fashion, we closed our Know Before You Grow Hemp webinar with a live Q&A session. Head of HiLo’s Farmer Relations Kevin Nowell covered the following hemp farming questions from the audience.
What are some of the differences in farming fiber & grain vs. cannabinoid?
You can farm cannabinoids, but you’re more susceptible to crop loss and running into some issues. Obviously, we grow it all across the U.S. We grow it all across the world, but there are certain climates that lend themselves more towards cannabinoid production. Where is it less risky to produce cannabinoids from a crop loss perspective? In cannabinoid production, we’re typically spending quite a bit more per acre on our inputs. Everybody’s got a different risk management strategy. Ideally, you’re producing cannabinoid in climates where it’s less risky.
Fiber and grain are more suited to the entire United States. It could be grown anywhere and everywhere for the most part, land masses and areas that have rainfall and low input costs, areas where we see a lot of grain and hay and alfalfa production. Those areas will lend themselves in the long run. Once this is really commoditized, we’re going to see the Midwest and the East is where fiber and grain is going to ramp up. And that’s really just the economic standing.
The economics on the inputs and farming and harvest are all very, very different. Kevin Nowell is going to be hosting a conversation in two or three weeks with one of our partners, Tom Dougherty and some of his team, and we’ll talk explicitly about fiber and grain variety. So, if that’s a crop you’re interested in, definitely keep an eye out for that or sign up so we can get you an alert.
Will pollen from a fiber crop influence the neighboring field or a cannabinoid production?
Yes, it will. It’s very important to talk to your neighbors and know the folks in your community because you could go out of your way and spend 50 cents to a dollar on feminized seeds for your single-purpose cannabinoid production. Meanwhile, somebody down the road could be producing a fiber grain crop or they could just be planting dioecious seed as a cannabinoid crop, and if they’re not on top of removing males from their field, it could pollinate yours. But surely fiber and grain production, that could very well pollinate you. And so that’s something to keep in mind.
As with other crops, a lot of counties and states actually have pollen maps, especially in areas where they do seed production and where seed companies grow seed as planting seed and are also susceptible to contamination issues from pollen. So, talk to your counties and your states. Hopefully, they’ll have a pollen map. Since it’s still new, they might not have a pollen map for hemp yet, but maybe encourage them to get the ball rolling on that because they already do it for other crops.
Besides the obvious potential cross-pollination on a “industrialized hemp” or low THC hemp crop, there’s folks that are growing the other version of cannabis that have some concerns. It’s really important to communicate and talk to your neighbors so you don’t surprise someone or have an accidental pollination that can cause significant economic damage to somebody.
What’s the distinction between Otto, O-T-T-O, versus Auto, A-U-T-O?
They sound the same, but when we say Auto we are referring to day-neutral or auto-flowering hemp plants, also known as Autos, A-U-T-O.
What is going on in the area of naming varieties and "selective breeding" and public domain? How does somebody know what they're actually buying?
To know what you’re actually buying, you need to vet your breeder and know your breeder. Hopefully, you can get ahold of people that have already grown their seeds and you know they are tried and true and you know what you’re getting yourself into. And this is important because there are a lot of fly by night breeders or you know everybody getting into the industry seems to be claiming that they are breeder.
And the reason that this is an issue is I view it as they are seed makers, which is not really breeding. There are seed makers, breeders and geneticists. It’s really easy to make seeds. But to breed, seeds have a legitimate selective breeding program that is really five plus year programs, and potentially laboratory work, so on and so forth. Those are the distinguishing factors between what I would call a seed maker and a seed breeder.
So, do your research, talk to other farmers, and talk to several seed vendors. Sadly, there are folks out there that are doing some shady stuff, and while COA’s help the conversation they can actually give you a false sense of security. We should probably get folks who are involved in the seed certification part of the conversation to talk about the very best source. You’re starting to see lists come out. Kentucky and Pennsylvania have lists of what they consider compliant or noncompliant genetics. There is potential value in those types of lists, but also some danger based on sampling lab methodologies, consistent SOPs, etc. These are all issues we should be keeping an eye on because you don’t want to lose a crop because of its THC levels.
In your opinion, what's the right temperature--or at least a safe temperature—for planting Autopilot 1.0? I was told it shouldn’t be planted until the average temperatures are above 50 degrees, but this would only give me about eight weeks to grow an 11-week plant.
I usually point to the research that’s done in Canada on this subject. Canada doesn’t plant until the ground thaws. So, they really look at soil temp for planting. Their recommendation is 55 to 60 as the low end of soil temps. I wouldn’t be concerned so much in regards to your air temps. Otherwise, you’re going to start seeing some germination rate issues.
Does HiLo advocate seed coating and do they recommend certain coatings? What are the best practices for direct selling?
Yeah, definitely advocate for seed coating. As we know, it typically lends to better germination rates because the coating holds more moisture and goes through less of a wet-dry cycle, if you will, than our soils would. Obviously, if you’re direct seeding, you’re going to want to maintain your soil moisture to begin with. But seed coatings can aid in germination. HiLo is offering seed coatings on Autopilot this year. We’ve partnered with a company called CoastBio. Their seed coatings not only have the traditional benefits of palletization for aiding germination, but also standardizing seed size for vacuum planters and different types of drills and different seeders. The palletization or seed coating helps with that. If you’re direct seeding some planters you really want to get that seed size a little bit larger so you don’t necessarily have to modify your planters or get a new planter.
Also, their seed coating has microbial inoculants that have been shown to benefit the hemp plant. We’re excited to be working with them this year. We’re already seeing great results with folks that are using coatings. And as we know with other crops, coatings are going to typically tend to better stands. And then, obviously, the added benefit of having the microbial inoculants in there, now you’re really another step ahead. So, we’re excited to be working with them.
Have farmers experienced loss due to deer invasion without fencing?
Some folks experience deer pressure, but most folks do not fence their fields. Most deer damage is due to deer bedding down in the crop than actually eating the plants. That’s not to say they will not eat the plants. If food is scarce, they’re going to eat anything that’s edible, even herbs that they wouldn’t normally eat. So, deer aren’t a massive threat or as natural a threat.
What has been your experience with birds?
The crop that we planted, the one shown in the picture, took about a 20- 25% hit because of birds. We direct seeded. So, when our plants were just emerging in the cotyledon stage, we had birds running throughout our field and flying into our fields and picking off our baby plants. I’ve talked to some folks that had talked to somebody last week that had about a 75% loss to birds. And then there was somebody in the Midwest that had basically 100% crop loss to birds. So, depending on your area and the time of year you’re planting and the food source for the birds, birds can really do some major economical damage to your crop.
Can you talk a bit about planting methodologies and pros and cons of starts versus direct sow?
It can depend on the season and the soil type. The further north you go, the larger the potential for autoflower because (as opposed to a photoperiodic variety) it’s size limitation is often a function of the amount of light units, growing degrees, and solar radiation. At a very high latitude (e.g., Canada), you can have enormous autoflower plants when the days are 18 to 20+ hours of daylight.
The biggest successes we’re seeing are with direct seeding. Transplanting with auto flowers is definitely not recommended. Not to say that it cannot be done, but it is not recommended. Auto flowers are finicky in their first two to three weeks. So, if you’re running into stressors, typically abiotic stressors, in those first two to three weeks, auto flowering plants will flower prematurely. If they only get a week or two weeks of vegetative growth before they flower, your yields will be much lower than expected.
With regard to seeding depth, a quarter inch is the standard for hemp. In some lighter, sandier soils you might be able to get away with going a little bit deeper. In heavier soils, you do not want to go deeper than a quarter of an inch. I know some folks don’t have equipment that is super precise at a quarter of an inch, but do everything you can to stick to a quarter of an inch because, otherwise, odds are that seed doesn’t have enough internal energy to sprout up out of the soil and get sunlight. It’s going to run out of energy before it breaks the surface of the soil, especially in heavier soils.
Can you talk a bit about autos growing indoor with lights versus outdoor? How do you set the lights, maybe veg versus bloom, and what's the optimum Lux power?
I’m not an expert on indoor production. From what I’ve seen from some folks doing indoor production with auto flowers, it’s not going to vary too much. The NPK charts showed you fertility. That might vary a little bit just because you’re working on a convinced growth cycle. But, it seems that everybody’s growing their auto flowers the same indoors as out. So, however you would normally grow a photo periodic variety under lights – that’s what I would be doing.
Do you know if there are currently any CBG genetics, specifically auto CBG, on the market?
I have yet to see a CBG auto on the market. I’m sure people are working on it but I haven’t seen one yet.
I think I might’ve seen some up in the Pacific Northwest when I was visiting some greenhouses, but I think it was very early stage and variable phenotypes and probably unstable. But yeah, there’s people taking a whack at it for sure.
Can we talk a bit about growing for extraction versus growing for smokable flower and how you treat those crops differently?
With regard to growing for extraction, currently farmers are only being paid for their CBD percentage. They’re not being paid for turbines or bag appeal or anything like that, which you might take into consideration in the smokeable market. Mechanical drying and field drying really suit themselves to biomass. Obviously, for the smokable flower market, you’re shooting for the highest quality flowers possible. That means high CBD, lots of turbines present, and then a proper dry cure on that, like you would see in commercial cannabis or marijuana production. There’s a lot of different equipment out there that might fit your farm; it really depends on your approach.
Are you row cropping this in a field? Are you growing in pots? There’s a lot of things that I would have to know before I could recommend any equipment. As time goes on and we have more and more pollination issues in the industry, we’re going to start seeing smokable flower production move indoors. I’ve seen a lot of mediocre and low quality product entering the smokable flower market. Anybody that lives in a state with commercial cannabis or has ever seen quality cannabis and understands bag appeal, smell, look, flavor and so on, understands the need to properly dry and cure and maintain the physical appearance of the nose and flavors and whatnot.
So, the smokable flower market is very unique. Obviously, price per pound is much higher when you’re looking at your gross, but your costs are also going to be much higher than in a biomass production situation. So that’s something very important to consider. And I know we’re leaving our budgeting for another day, but that’s always something when you’re looking at smokable flower. And make sure you have a buyer because there’s plenty of folks that said, “Hey, I’m going to grow smokable flower.” They didn’t necessarily have the buyer on the backend, so they went through all these extra labor steps and drying and curing and trimming and you know everything to do it right for smokable flower. And then they didn’t have a buyer on the back end, so they incurred all these extra costs and then they weren’t able to take advantage of the value add. So that really hurts at the end of the day.
Do you know of any chemovars with a decent CBDV yield?
We’re actually getting ready to release some here. We’re going to have at least two varieties that have a very healthy amount of CBDV in them.
Exciting news there. This is a little sneak preview for the folks on here. If you do a little research for CBDV and take a look at maybe guava jam, that might be a little bit of a preview. We’ll be much more direct about this news early next week and we should be hosting a session about CBDV cultivars in genetics specifically around April 2nd which is a Thursday at noon if you want to join us for that.
If purchasing starts at $2.25 each (per plant or seed or clone), what is a cost effective option in arid climates?
That’s a tough one because everybody is working off of a different budget. The margins on CBD production are going down. If you’re producing for biomass, there’s a huge variance. Are you planting a thousand plants to the acre or are you planting 3000 plants to the acre? When I look at your seed or seedling costs as a line item on the budget, at the end of the day you just need to make sure everything makes dollars and cents. I see seedling costs starting to go down, and I’ve seen them at half that price. Obviously, there’s a lot to be said for quality, but keep in mind that the value of CBD in the markets is coming down. So, I’m not going to say yes or no, and I’m not trying to dodge it, but I don’t know what your budget looks like. It’s hard to answer that.
There’s so many variables and I think we get caught up in this sometimes when people ask us, will this or that genetic go hot. Yes, the genetics contribute, but nutrients, soil, water and weather all play a role. The question is – is that price point optimal or cost effective for your operation in your region? Depending on your application, do you have a contract in place or are you taking a wet biomass to market or are you taking dry biomass? Are you trying to sell smokable flower?
What do you think about training (stressing the plants, topping them, etc.) as it pertains to some of the cultivars we were talking about?
At scale, once we’re talking about acres, tens of acres, hundreds of acres, thousands of acres, topping, low stress training, so on and so forth, I don’t think it’s economically viable. I don’t think it’s feasible just because you’re dealing with such a large number of plants. At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s going to make that drastic of a difference in your yields when you compare it to the labor that it’s going to take to do this across thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions of plants. So that’s how I always look at it. Does the economics of it makes sense? I’m not going to say you can’t potentially increase your yield per plant a little bit, but the time and the energy it takes to go out and do that at scale. Does it make sense or are you better off just growing a couple extra acres?
On smaller boutique operations, it very well would be feasible.