DICKINSON, N.D. – Behind Clarence Laub III, a hemp grower in the state, several 4-foot tall and thin hemp varieties stood in a variety trial, along with other short and bushy, or green and lush hemp varieties that crowded out small weeds emerging on the ground.
In all, 18 varieties of hemp were thriving in the hemp variety trial at NDSU Dickinson Research Extension Center.
The center held a Dickinson Hemp Workshop, organized by NDSU DREC cropping specialist Ryan Buetow, at the end of July, with many producers taking the time out to attend.
“Hemp has a growing interest in the state,” Buetow said.
Laub, who knows as much as any farmer knows about raising hemp in North Dakota, was the only farmer on the expert’s panel, and he was asked to talk about his experiences with hemp at the workshop.
Growing hemp in this arid part of the state has advantages as some of the experts at the hemp workshop pointed out.
Laub has sold “a fair amount” of his hemp crop to Kentucky, where there tend to be problems with very high moisture, which can cause mold in the bin.
“They don’t have arid conditions in the southern states, which is why we may be able to grow the crop up here better,” Laub told the producers and others at the workshop. “In this arid region, hemp can stay drier.”
Laub was one of only four farmers in the state to grow hemp in 2016, the pilot year for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, and he has chosen to grow it every year since.
Before returning to farming full-time, Laub earned a degree in agronomy at Bismarck State College, interning as a crop consultant with New Horizons Ag. He worked in Elgin as a sales agronomist for Wilbur Ellis after graduation, and then started farming full-time.
Laub considered 2016 his trial year of growing hemp. He conducted on-farm studies, such as studying different seeding depths, to find out what worked best for his farm.
Meanwhile, Laub talked to a lot of Canadian hemp growers, in particular Jeff Kostuik at Hemp Genetics International in Canada, and received information on hemp agronomics.
“We grew a 10-acre plot that first year pilot year, and we learned a lot,” Laub said.
The Laubs planted the Canadian varieties CRS-1, a grain variety, and CFX-2, a dual-purpose variety, on June 1.
“We used a hoe drill that first year, so we ended up having a difficult time getting a shallow seed depth with it,” he said.
Germination was difficult because the seed ended up too deep, and the stands grew uneven.
“The problem with the hoe drills are it can be hard to seed the shallow crop and also the seed can be damaged going through the system, which may lead to seed damage,” Laub said. “But you should do a germination test before seeding so you can adjust your rate accordingly.”
Laub may not have had the best stand in 2016, but yields ranged around 200 pounds/acre, and more importantly, “we learned what worked.”
At harvest, the Laubs discovered CRS-1 to be a “better fit for our farm.”
“We’ve grown that variety every year since,” he added.
In 2017, Laub bought a no-till box drill, and was able to get more depth consistency, which he feels should be from a half-inch to ¾ inches deep.
“In 2017, we went with a no-till box drill and had better luck with it. We also used more narrow row spacing in order to have a good canopy to crowd out weeds,” Laub said.
The tighter 6-inch narrow rows were an improvement, particularly on a crop without herbicide options.
“The close rows make it canopy so much faster and avoid weed issues,” he said. “My planting population is six to 12 plants in a square foot, which is dense.”
The Laub family didn’t know it right away, but 2017 was to be one of the worst droughts in North Dakota’s history.
Still, the Laubs had good yields for a drought year, anywhere from 500-1,200 pounds per acre, proving the crop grows best in arid conditions.
That year, he called Kostuik to come down and check out his crop.
“We had a lot of seed head growth in early fall, kind of like soybeans tend to have. Kostuik told us that we would see that when there was a wetter fall. In that kind of case, seed growth on top will jump in height from 1 feet to 2.5 feet on top,” Laub said.
In 2018, their yields were good, anywhere from 1,600-1,800 pounds/acre.
In 2019, North Dakota farmers were able to grow CBD.
So the Laubs planted industrial hemp for grain on June 10, along with hemp for CBD. CBD is planted like garden plants, transferred from small plants, and individually set in the fields, so it took a lot of work. The Laubs were grateful for the help of volunteers.
They grew some 11,000 CBD plants and have already marketed a lot of those plants.
For harvesting, Laub and his dad, Clarence Laub Sr., used a draper header, similar to combining wheat those first couple of years.
The draper header travels about 4 miles an hour in the fields.
In 2018, the draper header was down during harvest, and they were waiting for parts for it.
“Last year, we had a part go out on our header with only 15 acres left, and we were going to switch to cutting sunflowers next, so we went ahead and used our sunflower header with pans. We actually had very good luck with that,” Laub said.
This year, they plan to again use the sunflower header on all their hemp for grain acreage.
“The nice thing is we can go from 7-8 mph with the sunflower header. Hemp seems to feed better into the combine,” he added.
While the harvest leaves behind tough stubble in the soil, Laub has had no problems running the planter through the following spring and seeding right into the stubble.
“We seeded corn into 2017’s hemp stubble,” he said.
They have not had to burn their stalks to get them out of the fields.
“The first year we grew hemp we had a poor stand, so we just disced the stalks under,” Laub said. “In 2017, we had a shorter crop, but we took the hemp down to the ground in order to shred the stalks.”
Hemp leaves a lot of residue but residue is needed for the soil and the Laubs have not had trouble planting into it.
Laub is careful to watch the planter and make sure the trash doesn’t wind around parts on the planter.
“This year, the residue was 4 feet tall, and when it is that tall, we do vertical (shallow) tillage, working it over twice,” Laub said. “That worked very well.”
Questions from other producers:
Would land rolling work to cut down the trash?
“Yes, land rolling would work,” he said.
Do you have problems with insects in the hemp?
“We have had more problems during harvest with Lady Bugs, because we take it off at a high moisture,” Laub said.
What do you do for fertility?
The Laubs fertilize the way they do wheat with 120 pounds of N and 60-65 pounds of phosphorus. They have sandy soils.
“Once you get the crop in the ground, it will grow pretty fast,” he said.
What are the best seeding dates for this region?
“May 25 to June 10 are the best seeding dates for this area, with June 1 being the best date to get good growth. It is still cool enough to not get that late season weed pressure,” he said.
What about putting hemp in the bin?
“Hemp can get hot quite easily. The biggest thing is to get it dried right away,” Laub said. “We’ll span out harvest a long time, doing only a semi-load a day. We cut it, put that load in the bin and get the aeration going right away.”
How do you treat hemp in the bin?
Flipping the load in the bin cools it down “quite a bit.” The Laubs want to get the hemp moisture level down from 16-18 percent to 9 percent.
They need to continue to watch the bin after harvest, and make sure there is no mold or ‘bugs’ in it.
How about marketing the hemp?
“Marketing is the trickiest thing,” Laub said. “We didn’t sell the last two years’ worth of hemp until January of 2019.”
For the North Dakota hemp growers until the Farm Bill of 2018, hemp was not able to cross state lines.
Virtually the only company processing the crop in 2016 and 2017 was Roger Gussiaas, owner of Healthy Oilseeds and a farmer in Carrington, N.D.
Gussiaas handles different oilseeds and processes them into such products as hemp oil, hemp lotion and hemp protein powder. Hemp contains all nine essential amino acids, is a good source of fiber, and is high in protein.
“We had Gussiaas process some of our hemp into hemp powder, flour and a few other products that we put our own ‘Laub Farm’ label on,” Laub said.
Laub sold the products online and stores in the area.
“It worked pretty well selling our products ourselves. But it was only a small part of our acreage,” Laub said.
There are many more processors in North Dakota right now, so there should be a place for most hemp growers to sell their crop, as long as it is in good condition.
How did the recent Farm Bill help hemp growers?
The 2018 Farm Bill changed marketing for growers in a big way.
“The 2018 Farm Bill opened up a lot of things for us,” Laub said.
Laub has talked to a lot of Montana farmers who were able to grow a hemp crop but found out companies who had given them a contract were not there to pay them at the end of harvest. Basically, farmers were left holding the bag.
“They had contracts that pretty much weren’t worth the paper they were written on. So, be careful with that,” he said.
With the 2018 Farm Bill, growers can now cross state lines to market their crop.
That has really helped, especially with CBD.
“A lot of these companies (in other states, such as Kentucky) had no problem paying us money down and sending us a truck,” Laub said. “You need that in place, or they have no skin in the game. Once they got their clean sample, where they looked for microbes and other tests, they would pay us the rest.”
The North Dakota Department of Agriculture has held field days, where they go out to the producers’ farms.
Laub has had producers come out to his farm during field days, and has always been happy to share information.
But sometimes, it can get overwhelming.
“I can have three or four calls a day from all over the nation,” Laub added.