LANGDON, N.D. – The recent Hemp Field Day at the Langdon Research Extension Center finished up with an outdoor session at the hemp plots site. Burton Johnson, professor in the Plant Sciences Department at NDSU specializing in minor and new crops, and Bryan Hanson, agronomist at the Langdon REC led this part of the program.
Not starting at ‘square-one’
Johnson started by saying this is the fifth year of hemp production trials at the Langdon REC, and even in their first year, they didn’t start at “square-one.” They drew extensively on the experience from just across the border in Canada, where hemp has been commercially grown for over 20 years. Unlike many new crops that have been introduced in the region only to have a short life, he expects a bright future for hemp.
He noted that in the last 40 years they have looked at about 60 different plants types at NDSU in an effort to develop new crops for farmers to grow in this region. Out of that work, canola, sunflower, soybeans and dry edible beans made it big, but the others were just a flash in the pan – grown for a couple of years, but the agronomic deficiency prevented them from catching on in popularity.
By working with Canada from the start of the plot work, a large number of different varieties of hemp are currently available for growing.
Agronomic deficiency are the certain traits of each plant that keep it from becoming a popular crop here, such as seed shatter as the plant matures, a growth cycle that takes longer than our growing season allows, or low yield in terms of grain or oil production. But hemp doesn’t have these agronomic deficiencies, making it an ideal crop for this region.
“Another factor that is really exciting about (hemp) is that is known from coast-to-coast,” Johnson said. “We don’t have to be brought up and educated about what it is or what it might be – we know what it is and we know what it can do.
“The other real promising factor is the multi-use it has. Those crops that haven’t become popular had only one use. Hemp can be used for food, feed, fiber and even fuel. We now also have the nutraceutical and health-care product line, which are high-value,” he added.
Johnson condensed it down to four reasons why he feels hemp has a bright future: 1) we have many varieties of the crop; 2) no agronomic deficiencies for growing in this area; 3) the crop is well known; and 4) it has a multitude of uses.
“The line for this crop is steep – it is not flat-line, it is headed to the sky,” he stressed. “The potential is great, we just have to be careful not to overproduce too much that it collapses, which is very important at this time.”
Best management practices for hemp production
Agronomist Bryan Hanson started out by explaining the various trials they have undertaken since the Langdon site was named as the only NDSU Research Extension Center to work with hemp until it was opened up this year. Different varieties have been seeded over the years. This year they have about 20 varieties planted, with most of them originating in Canada.
However, they do have one variety that was developed in Oregon and a few more that came from work in Colorado. There are grain types, fiber types and dual-purpose types for both grain and fiber production.
Other plot work on hemp involved different planting dates, a fungicide trial and a plant reduction study that involved hail damage during one of the years. In terms of planting date, hemp is photoperiod sensitive, which means it doesn’t start flowering until the nights start getting longer after the first day of summer. Planting earlier will give a producer more growth, but not necessarily more yield. The earlier planting dates have proven to be the best. Planting dates have been generally around May 20, June 10 and June 20, with the two earlier dates working the best.
Hanson then went over a list of production practices that he has found works best in the Langdon area. Hemp likes:
- Well-drained fields
- Moist soils, but not too much so it has wet feet
- Dislikes clay soils because it has a hard time emerging from the ground
- A fertility level about the same as for canola
- There is no herbicide registered to use on hemp at this time
- Seeding rates – for grain crop about 12 plants per square foot or 20-25 pounds of seed per acre at a cost of $100 per acre; for fiber about 35 plants per square foot and about double the other figures mentioned for grain production
- Planting depth is one-half inch
- Hemp is very sensitive to glyphosate so protect from spray drift from other fields
- Hardest decision on raising hemp is when to harvest it since it is an indeterminate plant-harvest when about 75 percent of bracts are open and the seeds are about 18 percent moisture
- Essential to dry down the grain immediately after harvest
- Fiber production from a hemp operation can actually pose a problem because the massive amount that can be produced
In these production practices, nothing has been mentioned about growing hemp for CBD production and the reason is simple – a whole different set of practices apply. As it was mentioned early in the day, raising hemp for grain or fiber production uses agronomic practices. However, each individual plant receives extra attention in CBD production and principles of horticulture production are employed here.
Our series on this potential new crop will conclude next issue with production practices that must be followed for hemp being grown for CBD, which some say, could end up being the largest consumer market for hemp.