Understanding the agronomic needs and best practices growing standards for industrial hemp grown in Florida is vital to pulling off a successful, profitable crop.
But because hemp was illegal to grow for nearly 80 years, there is a crippling lack of published resources and industry knowledge when it comes to growing industrial hemp, especially for Florida farmers.
This report, generated from Green Point Research’s work researching, advocating for and supporting the Florida-grown industrial hemp since 2016, is an introductory agronomic guide for Florida hemp growers.
What Is Industrial Hemp?
Industrial hemp is the same species as marijuana, ‘Cannabis Sativa.’ However, hemp has been bred away from producing tetrahydrocannabinol, aka THC, the ‘intoxicating’ cannabinoid in the marijuana plant. Think of it as a paste tomato versus a cherry tomato. The same species selectively bred for very different uses. Hemp cannot make you high.
The 2018 farm bill legalized hemp, removing it from the Controlled Substances Act, where it had been lumped in with marijuana since 1937. In June of 2019, Florida authorized state-grown hemp, in-line with the new federal hemp regulations. Under both state and federal law, hemp is defined as a cannabis crop harvested with a ‘less than .3 percent’ THC level. If a hemp crop goes over that limit, it is considered an illegal marijuana crop and must be destroyed (more about that below!).
What Are You Growing Your Hemp For? Food, Fiber or Pharma?
Hemp, which can mature in just a few months and produce up to 10 tons of biomass per acre, was traditionally grown for fiber, pulp, and food. With legalization, there is a keen interest in renewing hemp industries across all these sectors.
However, for this report, we will be discussing best practices for growing hemp for CBD production. The hemp-derived CBD market is booming, predicted to increase by 700 percent to a $23.7 billion market by 2023, according to the Brightfield Group.
Growing CBD Hemp In Florida
Soil and Temperature for Growing CBD Hemp in Florida
Hemp is best grown on a well-drained, aerated loam or sandy loam soil with adequate irrigation and a PH between 6 and 7.5. In Florida, hemp will grow on almost all of our farmlands except, as the saying goes ‘celery land’ (aka boggy, wet soils).
Water and Nutrient Requirements for Growing Hemp in Florida
Despite a reputation for growing like a ‘weed,’ a high-quality CBD hemp crop needs to be grown following ‘heavy feeding’ principles similar to corn. Healthy initial nitrogen levels are essential, though hemp is highly responsive to added biologics and nutrient inputs — applied as a foliar, a soil drench or through irrigation.
Hemp needs adequate irrigation, especially in the rapid vegetative part of its growth cycle. Flood, overhead, pivot irrigation and drip irrigation are all acceptable. Though when flowering commences, overhead irrigation is not recommended. It can lead to mildew, damage flowers and wash off CBD-containing resins
Spacing and Planting Recommendations
CBD hemp is typically grown as dense as 3 ft. bed centers with 3 ft. in-row spacing for a total of 5000 plants per acre. Or up to 8 ft bed centers and 4 ft in-row for 1500 plants per acre.
These plants get big. Spacing and density will depend on the time of year (wetter versus drier seasons) and a farmer’s cultivation plan. Choosing to plant into plastic mulch beds with drip irrigation can help to reduce weed pressure and conserve moisture.
Start With the Right Hemp Genetics!
Unlike food and fiber-grown hemp grown for tall, dense fiber stalks, CBD hemp production is grown to utilize the high CBD content from the unpollinated hemp flower.
Farmers must choose the right seed when they put in a CBD hemp crop. CBD hemp cultivars have been bred to produce high quantities of CBD and low quantities of THC. But cultivars adapted for different conditions will react differently. An Oregon-bred cultivar is not necessarily suitable for Florida.
Don’t Go Hot! Plant Hemp Bred for Low THC Levels
As part of harvest protocols, farmers are required to test and submit their crops THC levels to state authorities. If your crop is above .3 percent THC, it will be ordered destroyed. There are many new hemp cultivars bred for low THC content, but they may perform differently in different conditions making it critical farmers choose a Florida-proven cultivar.
Choose Cultivars Bred for Florida’s Climate and Light Conditions
Though hemp is very adaptable – some cultivars are hardy well below freezing – it is important to choose cultivars bred for Florida’s specific warm and wet weather conditions to avoid potential disease and mold issues.
Traditional European-bred hemp is a photo-period or ‘light-sensitive’ plant. It moves from the vegetative to the flowering stage when daylight is less than 12 to 15 hours a day. Florida-specific cultivars adapted to our southern latitude light conditions are available through Green Point Research seed list.
Feminized Seed and Seedlings
Hemp is a dioecious species. Meaning it produces both male and female plants (similar to spinach). If you are growing for fiber or seed, this is not an issue. But for CBD, which is concentrated in the unpollinated flowers of the female plant, a single male plant can greatly reduce your final CBD content.
Hemp farmers have several options to prevent male plants, based on pricing, growing methods, and ability. You can choose to purchase feminized seed, which has been treated to prevent males from developing and start your own transplants. (Direct seeding is not recommended for CBD hemp production). Or you can plant clones, which are taken from female mother plants, and be assured of the genetics and sex of your plants.
However, even if starting with feminized seeds (and sometimes even clones), growers are still advised to walk your fields for the occasional male plant – or hermaphrodite, a stressed plant that produces both male and female parts. It only takes one and nature does have a way of prevailing when it comes to reproduction!
Diseases and Pests in Hemp Grown in Florida
Because hemp is such a new crop to America, we have the advantage of not having too many diseases or pest issues, yet. But the disadvantage of not knowing what will become a problem.
In Florida, hemp farmers should be concerned with pathogens related to our humid and warm conditions. Powdery mildew, fusarium, botrytis, pythium, and root rot are all anticipated as potential problems best prevented with adequate plant spacing for airflow and applications of preventative biologics.
Pests are adapting to this new crop. The hemp russet mite (Aculops cannibicola) has been identified as a significant pest in Colorado hemp fields. But essentially any ‘piercing or boring’ insect may cause a problem and Florida growers are advised to watch closely for corn borers, aphids, thrips, flea beetles and similar type pests.
Testing Your Crop
Each hemp crop must be tested and proven to be under the legal limit of .3 percent THC at the time of harvest to legally sell it. However, testing throughout the growing life of your crop is a valuable tool for determining the rate of CBD and THC rise in your crop.
As both CBD and THC levels increase as the plant gets closer to maturity, weekly testing procedures determine the rate rise and from there you can figure the best time to harvest for the highest CBD levels that are still under the THC limits. Crop testing also is a great way to attract a good final sale, as biomass buyers pay the best price for high CBD biomass.
Plan Carefully For Harvest!
Many hemp growers make the mistake of not adequately planning for the harvest and drying process required for preserving the integrity of your CBD. Hemp produces a lot of biomass and it must be handled correctly.
Your final crop price will be dependent on every ‘percentage point’ of CBD your crop produces. Inadequate harvest procedures and improper equipment often leave much of a crop’s CBD resin in the field instead of at the processors where you want it.
Also, hemp must be properly dried or cured, to avoid mildew and mold which can ruin a crop before it is processed. Having an adequate shed, drying process or drying equipment is imperative.
Selling Your Florida Hemp Biomass
There are several ways hemp farmers sell their biomass, from signing forward contracts before planting, to finding biomass buyers and processors looking for biomass when their crop is harvested. However, you decide to do it, make sure you understand the process from beginning to end before signing a contract and work with a trusted, vetted buyer who has a proven record of commitment to the Florida hemp industry.
Ready to Take the Next Step and Start Growing Hemp In Florida?
Green Point Research has developed a proprietary “Green Point Method™” to ensure success for Florida hemp farmers.
A best-practices manual combined with cultivars suited specifically for Florida growers, the GPM provides the best-suited, Florida-specific hemp seeds, recommended growing practices specific for Green Point’s cultivars and Florida growers, and all our experience in knowledge in growing the best quality hemp biomass.
Contact Green Point Research TODAY to learn more and get signed up with our program specifically designed for Florida hemp grower’s needs.