06 Jan Autoflower Hemp 101 Webinar, Part 1
In response to the myriad questions from hemp farmers on how to grow autoflower hemp, we launched a 3-part webinar series titled Autoflower Hemp 101 with leading agronomist Scott Knippelmeir of Agrarian Supply. The following video transcription covers every minute of his valuable presentation. For more on the live question-and-answer portion that followed the presentation, check out Part 1 Q&A.
About HiLo Seed Company
Hi everyone, and thank you for joining Part 1 of our webinar series Autoflower Hemp 101 with Scott Knippelmeir of Agrarian Supply and Christian Gray who works with me here at HiLo Seed Company. My name is Jenny Lamboy, and I’m HiLo’s Marketing Director.
For those of you who are new to us, we started as an autoflower hemp seed company with Autopilot 1.0 out of Edenton, North Carolina, and we are quickly expanding to new hemp genetics in 2020.
HiLo Hemp Workshops and Events
In addition to this webinar, we also offer workshops through our Farmer Relations department, and we show our faces throughout the country at numerous hemp events. You can catch us speaking on panels, offering presentations like this one, throwing mixers here and there. Check out the Hemp Events section on our website or follow us (@hiloseedco) on Instagram , Facebook or LinkedIn to see where you can find us next.
I’ll go ahead and hand this over to Christian, now. He’s going to officially kick us off with Scott, and then he’ll later moderate our hemp Q&A.
Introducing Christian Gray, Strategic Consultant at HiLo Seed Co
Hi everybody. Happy holidays. I hope you are in the spirit. We’re just counting down the last few days of “full-work” days, although, farmers never rest. So I guess you’ll be working through the holiday, Scott.
We’ve gotten a number of folks joining us today, so thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to hear Scott speak. He had a sold-out crowd of folks back at HIACON in Charlotte a month or so ago. We saw how well folks responded to having someone who actually had been in the field and touched the genetics, and had seen how the plants performed, and had a wide array of knowledge and experience. We just wanted to get him in front of as many farmers as possible, so we’re really thankful to have Scott explaining to farmers and other stakeholders the differences between day neutral and photoperiodic varieties and cultivars. Autoflower hemp is not your typical hemp plant. Isn’t that right, Scott?
Yes, there are definitely some intricacies.
Yeah, so he’s going to take you through this Autoflower 101 course. We have a good 55 minutes ahead of us. I think Scott can speak for three hours about this, but we’re going to keep him to 30-40 minutes max and save a good 15-20 for Q&A at the end. Please use the Q&A tab to ask your questions.
Most of the questions we want to save until the end because he may answer your question during the presentation and that’s probably the most efficient way to get you up to speed. And I think after the show today, we are going to get you a copy of the presentation or a copy of the broadcast to share with your team or others. Thank you so much for joining us, and I’ll let Scott take it away!
Autoflower Hemp 101 Presentation Start
Thanks Christian, much appreciated. And thanks to HiLo for hosting me today here. I’m Scott Knippelmeir. My company is called Agrarian Supply. We touch a lot of hemp and a little bit of cannabis across the United States, and I’ve had about five years experience with various autoflower hemp varieties in different trial and other type of commercial grows over the last primarily two to three years.
Hopefully, today we’ll just be demystifying the day neutral varieties of hemp, and like Christian was saying, because there’s only about 35 minutes or so here, I won’t be really hitting on a whole lot of nutrition and pest control, which is the primary thing my company does, but we will mostly just be talking about what the definitions and differences are between autoflower (aka day neutral) and standard (aka photoperiodic hemp) varieties.
About Autopilot 1.0 Autoflowering Hemp
The Autopilot 1.0 from HiLo Seed Company pictured here in a couple different photos is a day neutral. It is feminized, meaning you’re going to have somewhere in the neighborhood of one male out of about anywhere between two and 4,000 females. One of the nice qualities of autopilot 1.0 is it has very low female typical variance, meaning the plants all look very similar as they mature and they mature at the same rate.
Autopilot is very predictable in the way it responds when treated correctly both in its yield and its cannabinoid profile. I’ve seen this plant in eight different states and lots of different soil types, a wide range of latitudes, and the seed is very predictable, so they’ve done a really nice job growing out a good variety.
Agrarian Supply: Protecting Your Investment
What we do here at Agrarian Supply, we provide agronomic advice. We’re helping you get the most out of your crop and your investment. Right now, anybody who’s involved in the hemp world knows that the most expensive part of the hemp growing process is the seed. The opportunity cost of not treating that seed with the utmost care to get the highest yield and quality out of a seed is potentially really problematic to having a successful crop.
What is Autoflower Hemp?
Let’s get into some basics about the autoflowers. They are day neutral. That means that they will mature based on a cumulative number of days or what we call in the vegetable world, “days to maturity” (DTM), meaning from the time that the seeds sees water and starts to grow, there’s a fixed number of days between the time that the plant germinate and the time that the plant has finished its flower cycle.
If you start your seed in February, that plant is going to mature in April. And if you start your seed in April, the plant’s going to mature at the end of June. And if you start your seed on August 1st, your plant’s going to mature in October. This doesn’t matter where you are, what latitude you’re at, what elevation you’re at. It doesn’t matter what part of the season it is. If you don’t have frost in the area you live, you can grow right through the winter.
Photoperiod vs. Days to Maturity
We’ll touch on some of those slight differences that are based on seasonality and some other factors but the take-home message is:
Everything that you know about photoperiodic hemp and the fact that it has its flower period based on not initiating flower until after the solstice, you just have to erase that thinking for the autoflower.
Autoflowers can be a fixed smaller size and cannabinoid content tends to be slightly less than some of the other commercially available photoperiodic hemp. Although, that is actually a plus based on the new USDA rules that have come in here because with a lot of the current photoperiodic hemp that’s been bred to have very high total CBD content at maturity is based on the loophole that was built into this 30-day pre-harvest testing.
<strong>Because autoflower hemp is going to have a little bit less CBD in general, you’re actually able to take the plant to full maturity and still come in under the point 3% THC.</strong>
Everything that was valuable about autoflower hemp is even more valuable in this upcoming year pending the approval of the USDA rules that have become much more strict on your pre-harvest testing window and your total THC testing standards.
Hemp Planting Density
This is the primary area that we work in. We’ve got clients across the country, but I built this map for the western states. This is just an educational map that shows you just generally. And this map is going to go for about three or four different slides here, so if you can, try to get a memory of what these different zones are. The different zones are based on your first and last frost dates or in the hot desert zones where you have excessive summer heat that won’t allow the plants to physically be transplanted successfully.
Wherever you grow and whatever plant number per acre you’re growing at, one thing I would like people to start thinking about is moving towards a yield goal and starting to ask yourself, “How many plants per acre does it take me to achieve this yield goal?” Not, “How many ounces per plant will I get and how am I going to space these out?” But really to maximize your yield, “how many plants are we going to put on an acre based on the expected growth and the size of the plant to get the maximum biomass per acre.” That is where the industry’s going, so you might as well start getting there now.
Early planted photoperiodic varieties — what we call standard hemp — may have more overall biomass. But you can end up with the same amount of extractable cannabinoids. You also end up with a lot more lignified stem-to-flower ratio. One of the nicest things about the autoflower varieties is they’re small. It can be a little bit limiting in terms of your total initial seed cost and what it’s going to cost to get the right amount of plants per acre to get a reasonable biomass yield at the end of the season. But that biomass is going to have small stems, it’s going to have a lot less stem-to-flower ratio, it lends itself through mechanization, and there’s a bunch of other things I’ll be getting into a little bit later about why small plants are better for your bottom line then larger plants.
Again, just the real take-home message is that these plans are going to mature after a certain number of days. Typically, advertised around 75 days from emergence to maturity. That can sometimes extend out to 85 days, maybe even 90. It depends on how many total light units you have.
They’re going to take a little longer to finish in the winter than they do in the summer and the plants will be smaller in the shoulder seasons, or the winter than they would in the summer months just because they respond a little bit to the total number of what we call either growing degrees or solar radiation units in the way that they size up. But that’s not going to affect very much of their amount of time from emergence to maturity.
There’s going to be a chart on the next page that will hopefully, further illustrate some of the differences between photoperiodic hemp and day-neutral hemp. Decoding the chart here, if you look, the black dots illustrate standard photoperiodic hemp, the white dots are day neutral hemp. And then, if you look to the right on that bar, I have some suggested plant populations per acre and then what your expected plant size would be. This is really important because if you have a photoperiodic plant put in say, April 15th or something like that in a warm area, that plant is going to be 10 plus feet tall at the end of the year, so 2,600 plants per acre is going to fill in your acre edge-to-edge. When I’m talking about some of these plant numbers, you’re going to see some huge numbers on there that are going to be disconcerting to some people who have their calculators out. But this is an educational tool and we are talking about what it takes to get a full canopy coverage from edge-to-edge of the field on every acre.
Hemp Planting Schedules
If you look here in green, we have what I was calling “zone.” This would be an area with a short growing season: Minnesota, North Dakota , Northern Midwest areas that have a late last frost and or early first frost. You really can’t get in the ground oftentimes there until the end of May, June 1st. And if you see the black dot, that would represent a photoperiodic hemp plant that was going to grow and start flowering after the solstice and finish like most of you would normally expect a hemp or cannabis plant to finish.
For the sake of this chart, we’re saying everything finishes on October 1st. Obviously, we know that’s not true but it’s probably the medium of where most plants finish, so on the second line there you’ll see a plant that you’re going to put in on July 1st. It’s still going to finish its growth cycle, and end, and be ready to harvest on the exact same date, October 1st. But you’re going to need 3,600 plants per acre to fill in your canopy edge-to-edge.
If you go down next to the third green line, now we’re into autoflowers. Those plants are going to be three to four feet tall. But if you go and plant July 1st instead of June 1st, you’ll see your harvest date also moves back by one month as well, so that means that the plants are going to have roughly the same amount of days to maturity and you can stagger your harvest dates.
Now, we’re moving down into the darker brown areas, probably, what I would call the northern part of the Central Valley of California and zone four in the lighter brown would be the mid to southern Central California Valley. And as you can see here, the season is getting longer. There’s less restrictions on your first and last frost dates.
Let’s look at zone four because I think it’s where all this starts to get interesting. You can stagger your planting dates for standard photoperiodic hemp, pushing them back one month after another and they all end on October 1st. The plants just end up being slightly smaller and you did more plants per acre to fill out your acreage. Then, you drop down into the third line down there in zone four and you start to see that you have the ability to put three back-to-back plantings of autoflower hemp starting March 15th and ending in November.
If you look now vertically in zone four from top to bottom, left to right, you’ll see that you could stagger your plantings. If you have a contract with maybe a small extractor that needs a small amount of material but wants it fresh on a regular basis, you might want to use autoflower varieties to plant every single month for six or seven months in a row and harvest seven different times one month apart, spacing out your harvest, maximizing your drying space. It allows for a lot of flexibility in your cropping season.
And then, if you look about halfway down that chart, another novel way that you could use autoflower and one that a lot of people like to use is an early-season autoflower hemp planting and then you come in late with your standard photoperiodic variety around August 1st and plant a standard photoperiodic hemp variety. What that does is when you put that photoperiodic hemp variety in right around August 1st, you’re going to end up with a plant that is exactly the same size as a day neutral autoflower hemp plant. Therefore, you can use some different genetics if you so choose but still use the exact same irrigation layout, the exact same harvesting equipment, and the exact same spray rig setup as you would with autoflower hemp.
Take home message here, lots and lots of flexibility. When you start to get into day neutral hemp, it really opens things up for you.
This is the desert, so I don’t know where the attendees are from on this webinar but if you’re in the deep desert, southwest, Arizona, the Yuma, lower Imperial Valley California area, this is an illustration of how you probably want to avoid putting any plants in the ground after mid May at the very latest.
And there’s still a lot of experimentation going on down in the desert, so I would say, check back in, in regards to some of the tweaks we want to make to this particular planting zone, but it’s a real exciting zone because it allows us to potentially use some of the off season to continue cropping in a really novel way with some of these auto flower varieties.
There’s not a whole lot of difference between what you are going to want to do for standard hemp or day neutral hemp. The main thing is, you want to have nicely prepared soil because whether you’re doing direct seeded or transplants, one of the main things that can cause pre-flowering an autoflower hemp is stress and/or restriction to the routing zone. I’m going to be getting into that a little bit more depth later, so let’s just kind of gloss over that for now. But outside of just having nicely mellow prepared ground that you can either seed direct sow or transplant in, the only other thing I [inaudible 00:20:20] all hemp but especially, autoflowering hemp does not do well with wet feet. Heavy soil that doesn’t drain and stays fully saturated and in any way anaerobic for any length of time, needs to either be avoided or dealt with, with some sort of engineered draining.
This is a soil test that also doesn’t vary much between photoperiodic hemp or day neutral hemp. Again, the day neutral hemp is just a little more finicky, so it’s even more important than it is on photoperiodic hemp that you do your pre-plan amendments oh, you get your PH into the right range, adjust for any type of mineral imbalances that you have the ability to do on a field scale and make sure that there are no limiting factors with salts, boron, chlorides, or other elements that are going to cause stress for the plant because in photoperiodic… Or I’m sorry, and day neutral varieties, stress equals pre-flowering, pre-flowering equals small nodes, small nodes equals small plants and small plants equals low yields. They really need to be babied and that involves all the normal stuff that you would do to take care of a crop but probably just a little more important.
You’re going to be planting at a higher density with autoflower hemp than you would at a normal photoperiodic hemp variety. And if you remember from the planting chart in the presentation, your plant numbers per acre on photoperiodic are going to come in lower.. It kind of depends but anywhere between 1200 plants to the acre to maybe on the high-end 3,500 plants per acre. In autoflower hemp, really, the bare minimum you ever want to put in is 8,000 plants per acre. And if you’re set up to have a full canopy with the right kind of equipment where you don’t need wide furrows and you could actually get full canopy coverage, you can easily go up to 20 plus thousand plants per acre.
One of the reasons to go with high-density planning when you’re planting autoflower hemp is weed management. The plants are not going to close the canopy in at the end of the season the same way that a large photo periodic variety would. The plants are also sensitive to competition from weeds, so getting a high density, especially, your in-row row spacing on the plants, reduces the cost of hand weeding and difficulties of in-row rouging.
As the margins on hemp start to shrink and the needs for mechanization become more important, autoflower hemp is really appealing because these plants, when you pack them in, in an in-row spacing of maybe 16 in or less, 14 inches, the plants will quickly fill in and you don’t have to worry about in-row weeding because the canopy is closed in the row.
This is something to avoid here. You definitely want to get the plants up before the weeds come up, so let’s see. That kind of is a good transition between your pre-plant planning and then how you decide you’re going to plant. If you look at the picture on the left here under Direct Seed, this was a very successful direct seeding. Probably, 90 plus percent germination. This was one of the best fields I saw all year. A lot of direct seeded crops did not do so hot this year. I got a lot of calls out to a field that had anywhere between 10 and 40% germination.
Direct Seeding vs. Transplants
The pros of direct seeding is that it’s fast, it’s inexpensive and your plant has a taproot. On the transplanting side, some of the pros are that you have a uniform stand, you don’t have any missing position, and you have a head start on the weeds so that you can avoid this kind of situation.
What are the cons of direct seeding? A weak stand. If you look at the picture under here, this is probably about a 15% germination rate. This field is a failure. If you don’t get up in front of the weeds, the weeds are going to take control, irrigation management becomes a little bit more difficult, when you [inaudible 00:25:20] get water [inaudible 00:25:21] you have to make sure you have a uniformly wetted bed to make sure that the seed will germinate.
Bird pressure. This just depends on where you are and what season you’re in. But I went to a field in Southern California this year that was 100% wiped out by birds. They really like the seeds when they’re at the emergent state. By the time you get your first set of true leaves, the birds are not interested in the plant. But if you think about it, one of the primary constituents of bird feed is hemp seed. They love it. The birds love hemp seed, so dealing with bird pressure is something that you have to think about when you have direct seeding. Similarly, insect pressure. There’s a lot insects that will take advantage of the plants when they are at that emergent stage prior to their first set of true leaves.
What are the downsides of transplanting? Cost. Is more expensive. Autoflowering hemp is very unique in the fact that you cannot do it in standard insert standard transplant trays, you can only use insert plugs. I’m going to get into that more in depth here in a couple slides. You have to have specialized equipment and you have to have skilled labor. If you live in an area that has a strong cultural background in vegetable transplants, you can use that industry to help you. If you don’t, you might want to really think hard about whether or not you want to get into using transplants because there is a lot of specialized equipment and that equipment needs to be run by a skilled laborer that has experience with this type of transplant material.
Insert plugs. If you’re going to go the way of transplants, how are you going to deal with them? Autoflowering hemp got a bit of a bad reputation because people said that you couldn’t transplant it. Well, that’s because 99% of the hemp transplants that are produced are done in either styrofoam or hard plastic trays. Plants are generally grown for four to six weeks in those trays and when they get put out in the you grab them by the stem, pick the stem up, you drop it in your transplanter and the plant gets transplanted.
But the problem with autoflowers is by the time that the roots of fill in that soil to the point that they hold it together and that the plant gets big enough and strong enough that you can touch the stem and pick it up with your fingers without damaging it, the roots have sent a hormone signal through the circling that causes the plant to go into flower. It is not unusual to see autoflower hemp seeds start flowering in the cell tray or within a week or two of being put in the field and the plants can end up being normally, four inch tall and they won’t ever recover from that.
The solution to that is that you use an insert plug. In this picture and in the rest of the pictures you’ll see in the presentation, it’s a type of plug called Ellepot. It’s a little paper tube that’s filled with the standard peat germination mix. There’s other companies that make other insert plugs and they all work just fine basically, that the key is, if you look at the middle picture, that’s what we call a dibble board.
You get a dibble board. These were purchased… I think there’s a company on the East Coast that sells them called Johnny’s Seed, but you can make it yourself or maybe there’s other companies that sell them. But as long as the dibble board is sized to the specifications of the trays(I think these are 128’s). You set the cell tray down on top of that dibble board. That pushes each of the plugs out about three quarters of an inch and then you grab the plug and drop it in the transplanter by the plug itself, never touching the plant material.
Transplanting with insert plugs
I think, hopefully, these pictures help this whole concept coming to play. You can only keep the plant in these for 10 to 12, maybe 14, days max before they need to get out in the field. Otherwise you get the roots hitting the edges, you get roots starting to circle, that root circling triggers a hormone response that tells the plant that it’s time to start flowering and you end up with dwarf plants.
This example is not ready to be transplanted, this is day six of this particular grow. The roots are just starting to emerge from the bottom of a plugs and this is what the plants look like on the right at that stage. They’re just developing. That first true leaf probably started unfurling the previous day.
Here’s day nine. The roots have started moving out and the third plant on the right is starting to circle. That’s a little unusual. These were growing really fast. Normally, you wouldn’t see quite that much root development at day nine but with the exception of the third planet from the left, these are still a little immature. You see there’s not much in the way or fine root hair development. You’re just getting those first what you call set roots roots down. The plants in the picture on the left are the same as the trays on the right there, so that’s day nine.
Here’s day 14. These are perfect. These plants have not started root circling, they filled the Ellepot plug completely, you’ve got your second set of true leaves developed or developing at the stage and these are ready to be popped in the ground today, tomorrow. And honestly, if you wait three more days, they’re past. Making sure that you have the ability to move your plants in the field swiftly on the same schedule that you sowed the seed and that you transplant crew or machines can run the plants out to the field and get them in the ground is extremely important. Yeah, the timing of this, there’s very little wiggle room. I would say, 48 to 72 hours can make a difference of sometimes 50% yield if you can’t get these things out at the right time.
By the time you’re ready to get in the field now, the planting precision is really important. Why is that? Because the plants are tiny. It’s really hard. We’ve run into a lot of situations where a crew that’s never dealt with this or beds aren’t prepared super flat, there’s a bunch of different reasons why but these things can end up planted upside down or sideways. It takes a skilled crew and well tuned equipment to get these things put in the ground right when they’re that small. Anybody who’s done vegetable transplant probably understand why that is when they’re looking at the size of these plants.
You got to have a lot of greenhouse space. One thing I’ve run into, people under estimating the size of the space that it takes when they commit to transplants, so do the math, make sure that you know that you’ve got enough bench space to get these things up and out in the timely manner that you’ve scheduled for your farm plan.
This was a video. I don’t think we’re going to run the video here on this program but this shows an automated seeding line. That’s the other thing I’ve encouraged people to think about is how much time, and labor, and effort does it take to direct hand seed and it’s probably way more than you would guess, so if you’re going to commit to the transplant route, I would strongly, strongly encourage you to use a professional nursery to partner with. And then, make sure that that nursery understands some of the intricacies are these plants because if they don’t, they’re going to push you and strong-arm you into trying to grow these like they would normal vegetables or normal hemp and it’s not going to work.
This could probably be a whole presentation in and of itself, how you run the nursery aspect of getting these plants out but suffice it to say, before you commit to trying to do many acres of transplants, talk to professionals or I guess reach out to me directly actually, if you’d like. Well, there it is. Nevermind we can see the video. Great.
That’s setting the holes. They’re going to fill the tray here with the vibrating seed plate. This is Autopilot here being seeded.
Capping the trays off with some vermiculite.
Running through the water bars. The plugs are pre-moistened, so this is just getting the seed wet here.
Fertility and Conclusion
We’re talking about fertility and, frankly, this is probably a whole other presentation in and of itself. This is primarily what I spend most of my year doing: designing fertilizer and pest control plans, and helping hemp farmers implement them to have more successful crops. And this curve is set for a standard photoperiodic hemp variety that would be what we call a 16-week hemp.
There are some specific nuances to autoflower hemp that you need to know about in order to manage the fertility to get them to push and stretch at the right time so you don’t end up with small plants.
I think we’re going to do some more of these webinars and maybe I’ll do a whole presentation on autoflower hemp fertilization and pest control.
Yeah, that’s pretty much the presentation right there. I will open it back up to Christian and questions.
Q&A for Autoflower Hemp 101 Webinar
We closed Part 1 of our Autoflower Hemp 101 webinar with a live Q&A session. We are currently getting the content transcribed and will publish in early January. Please bookmark this page to keep tabs.