It was a learning year for the Loroffs — and that’s putting it mildly.

Growing their first industrial hemp crop on six acres of the family farm in Troy, Kansas, siblings Mandie, Brannt and Garrett Loroff expected the unexpected. So they weren’t exactly surprised when they discovered 60-plus hermaphroditic plants in their field, or that the bucking machine they bought to collect the flowers and buds for CBD oil is pretty much useless, or that they’re still trying to finish bucking the hemp that they harvested in early October.

“Keeping up with the maintenance on these fields was just absolutely tremendous,” Mandie said with a wry chuckle. “We knew it was going to be a lot of work. Growing hemp is like a garden — but when you have a six-acre garden that you have to hoe, and water, and maintain … it was just a lot.”

Growth setbacks

Though the three siblings that comprise Three Kinsmen, LLC all have fulltime jobs, and Mandie and Garrett don’t live near the farm, they managed to be in the fields night and day. And when that still wasn’t enough, they added more people to their growers’ license with the Kansas Department of Agriculture, to get the daily field work covered.

With a few extra hands, the team set a good pace throughout the summer, keeping the weeds and pests at bay. It wasn’t until mid-July that they noticed something was wrong. Growth began to stagnate, the hemp looked rough, and dry. Feeling the pressure, they began hand-watering the plants, slowly making their way down each row of the six acres.

“Around July 20, we had a huge rain, it was beautiful, and everything should be perking up,” Mandie began. “No, that’s when you find ‘stuff’. We realized Dad’s soybean field was hit with dicamba, you could see the drift path.

“(The hemp) was never dry. Dicamba had hit it.”

Despite being on the sensitive crop registry, dicamba left its telltale insignia on the Loroff farm — some of their hemp plants never grew past a foot tall.

There wasn’t too much time to stress about it, though. Once they discovered the hermaphroditic hemp plants, they had a whole new problem to figure out — which they did, by pulling every single one from the field.

They were able to remove the hermaphrodites before the pods opened to spread pollen, but then lady fortune struck another hard blow. Their fields were surrounded by ditch weed. The hemp was cross-pollinated anyway.

It was disappointing, but it wasn’t the end of the road. Where there’s a seed, there’s also still oil, so the Loroffs forged ahead to harvest.

Harvest

The lack of research on hemp shines through once again during harvest — Mandie said there’s no research-driven, definitive answer on when hemp is ready for production. However, because their crop was a research plot and required tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) level testing before harvest, they had to notify KDA of their anticipated harvest date no less than 30 days in advance. That quandary led to some guesswork on Harvest ‘19, she added.

The trio timed it well, fortunately — their crop came in coolly below the .3 percent THC limit and, at the green light, they harvested the entire crop with jigsaws and four-wheelers by Oct. 9. Once out of the field, the hemp plants went straight to the shed to hang-dry.

“That was a time-consuming process, but it was nothing like the bucking,” Mandie said.

Bucking — the process of removing the flowers and leaves, or biomass, from hemp plants to process for high quality CBD oil — has been ongoing on the Loroff farm since harvest.

They purchased a bucking machine but quickly found out it just slowed the process, as it would only clean one branch at a time. So the Loroffs abandoned the machine and instead donned thick gloves to dig into the sharp, sticky, cumbersome work, side-by-side.

Mandie estimated they have 35, 200-pound bags of biomass so far, with a little more to go.

She also had some advice about bucking, and hemp production in general.

“You think something is going to take a day, just know in your mind it’s going to take three times longer,” she advised, adding, “Buy a (bucker) that takes a whole plant at a time — don’t buy a little one, you’re just wasting your time.”

Hemp in 2020

All said and mostly done, the Loroffs’ hemp crop is a success — their cherry wine biomass was certified at a nearly 12% CBD concentration, an excellent percentage for outdoor hemp crops. With a little more work, they’ll be done bucking and hopefully transporting their biomass to their processor, who is currently severely backlogged.

In the meantime, Mandie and her brothers will decide on a marketing strategy for their CBD oil. They can sell the biomass directly to the processor and be done, or pay the processor for the end product, either outright or with half of the profits after securing a buyer. It’s a gamble, but far from the first they’ve made throughout this venture.

Ever the steadfast optimists, the Loroffs haven’t let setbacks or lingering unknowns drag them down. They are already licensed to grow hemp again this year and making plans to improve their operation, ditching the methods that didn’t work and focusing on the ones that did.

For instance, Mandie said their research project for KDA — row spacing and pruning — had significant findings. Four foot row spacing was difficult to tend, so they’ll plant only six foot in between this year.

They didn’t have the time to prune this first crop, and they found the lack of pruning to be problematic for several reasons — their primary issues being no room for cultivation, and heavy, weak lower branches that didn’t produce as much biomass.

They’ve also decided to go down in acreage this year, to make the crop more manageable as they continue to learn and improve their methods.

They remain dedicated.

“Every day, you kind of want to quit, you know?” Mandie said, jesting. “Because it is stressful. But I also know that if it’s something that we’re doing, it’s never going to be easy. We are pioneers, wading our way through something and figuring things out. It’s hard, there’s a lot of money wrapped up into it — my whole family has invested a lot of money into making this work. If we give up now, it would all be in vain.

“So we buckle down and figure out how we can improve. Be patient. Be positive.”

Katy Moore can be reached at katy.moore@lee.net.

A Kansas native, Katy is the daughter of a farmer and a cowgirl. She has been a professional journalist since 2008 and is the Editor of Midwest Messenger. She can be reached at katy.moore@lee.net.