Renewable Farming

Did anyone here raise hemp this season? Are you going to try again next year?

That show-of-hands question arose at a farmer seminar I attended in late 2019. As I recall, none of the farmers who’d tried raising hemp raised their hands when asked if they would “try again.”

July 23, 2020   By Jerry Carlson — I know almost nothing about raising hemp, whether for fiber, CBD oil or “medical” TCH. Ignorance, of course, is a huge advantage for a journalist tackling any complex subject. So many good stories suffer from over-verification!

What prompts this brief essay is my recent three-hour visit with a brilliant chemist/farmer who has a dozen years of experience raising hemp for legal extraction of CBD oil. He’s hopeful for the crop, but has some advice on the marketing side.

Wikipedia describes CBD (Cannabidiol) as “a phytocannibinoid discovered in 1940. It is one of 113 identified cannabinoids in cannabis plants and accounts for up to 40% of the plant’s extract.” The oil is typically extracted with ethanol, or carbon dioxide under intense pressure. The oil is widely available by prescription for medical benefits. 

Photo: Texas A&M

I’m an enthusiast for alternative crops, which can add diversity and resilience to our corn-soybean paradigm here in Iowa. We encourage innovation, especially that which builds toward healthier soil, healthier food and health benefits for people. The next two generations on our 20-acre research farm are demonstrating this intent: Testing possibilities, proving the agronomics, then scaling up commercially. I’ll confess to trying a couple of acres of Jerusalem Artichokes years ago, in a wilder season of life. 

I’ll leave my cannabis-growing friend anonymous, because he did great with the culture of the crop but spoke in confidence about the challenges with the culture of the CBD marketing industry. We always look for the positives. But he said, “Farmers who try raising hemp for the CBD oil encounter a little good, some bad, and a lot of ugly.” 

Mostly, his ugly encounters involved clashes with the cultural ethos of the cannibas promoters, processors, and stockbroker-type venture capital mercenaries in the marketing chain.

Selling a successful crop, said my friend, “Is not like dumping a semi load of corn at the elevator, driving back over the scales and picking up a check. He described the sequence he has seen other growers encounter. “First, a smooth, enthusiastic CBD hemp merchandiser sells the farmer on the virtue of his hemp’s exclusive “genetics,” which the grower can buy for only $10,000.” 

The promise, amplified in the tumultuous world of cannabis conferences and market makers, is that growing hemp with high CBD content yields many, many thousands of dollars perpetually because the industry is expanding exponentially and you can’t afford to miss this opportunity today.  

But if the farmer succeeds in harvesting and delivering, said our friend, “Odds are high that (a) the promotor has vanished and the contract is worthless, (b) the promotor promises to pay “within six months, after processing and sale of your crop is complete.”

He stresse that a novice cannabis cultivator must know how to raise the crop, but also must do extensive due-diligence in connecting with credible marketers. 

More than once, we at Renewable Farming have heard cannabis blue-sky proposals from “venture capital” specialists who are looking to cash in on a big IPO — an initial public offering of stock. Typical come-on: “We’ve learned how your WakeUP amplifies the yield of CBD oil. If you just lock in a cheap price for us, or better yet, share the WakeUP formula with us, we’ll make you multi-zillionaires.”

Our friend also cautioned that some hopeful cannabis cultivators spray their plants with toxic cocktails of pesticides to kill spider mites, aphids and other parasites which are apparently eager to get their TCH or CBD fix on hemp.

He said, “Greenhouse hemp growers tell me they have to dump the contaminated soil from their pots and start with fresh soil every season. Their potted soil is laced with chemical toxins they’ve applied. What farmer wants to do that that on a 10-acre field?”

In closing (I hear applause) I’ll uplift the sincere efforts of extension and researchers helping educate growers toward valid hemp management and markets.

Bottom line is that most farmers tend to concentrate on the agronomics. Amid the speculative cannabis enthusiasm, you’ll need special attention toward the credibility and viability of your potential market makers.