Learning How to Grow Industrial Hemp for CBD
"A farmer has to be an optimist, otherwise he wouldn't still be a farmer" Will Rodgers
According to the the latest Iowa State University Costs of Crop Production for 2017 report it costs about $4.10 to produce a bushel of corn in Iowa. At the current selling price of roughly $3.50 per bushel the farmer is losing about 60 cents on each one they produce. While the cost per acre has been as high as $830 per acre it means that growing 200 acres of corn will cost about $150,000 to plant this year. Consequently that farmer is on track to lose about $35,000 during 2017. Unfortunately the numbers for soybeans and hay are similarly bleak.
Farmers are getting crushed by falling commodity prices on one side and rising input prices on the other. It's not rocket science: something has to change if farmers are to survive. Right now growing commodity crops looks like a going out of business strategy so it is not hard to see why Industrial Hemp is attracting so many new farmers willing to risk it all to try a more profitable crop. However, most farmers don't know what they are getting into. There is no business I know of where rules change constantly, the processing infrastructure is still hypothetical and each State gets to set their own regulations. On top of all that you still have to compete against a black market where rules are just inconveniences and you'll have to find a buyer through a broker "who knows a guy, who knows a guy who needs some flower..." Maybe Will Rodgers was right; farmers must be optimists.
For over two years Chimney Rock Farms has been helping farmers make the transition to hemp. As an Organic farm for over a decade we too were getting hammered by falling food prices and rising costs, especially labor. While the commodity farmer pays one person to drive a tractor at about $13 an hour the transitioning hemp farmer is faced with much higher labor costs to transplant, tend and harvest each plant. Understanding how to manage these costs are critical to success of any farmer entering this business as we figure out how to scale this industry and grow hemp for CBD for biomass and hemp flower rich in CBD and full spectrum cannabinoids..
Since our mission is to research and develop new methods and technologies to help small and midsize farmers become profitable, hemp was a natural transition crop for us as well. While we know industrial farming is necessary to "feed the world" what isn't well known is that commodity grain and beans are mainly a source of calories the world needs not necessarily the nutrition it must also have. For that fruits and vegetable farming will need to move closer to where people actually live for our agricultural system to become truly sustainable over the long run. We believe it will be necessary to re-localize much of our food system, including animal production, and to do that we are going to need a lot more farmers. If those farmers enter agriculture through hemp then we will have accomplished our mission.
Learning by doing: cloning and seed propagation
We offer full-day Boot Camp training sessions for farmers and their lead growers to learn how the hemp business actually works; how grow hemp for CBD, how to propagate and cultivate hemp, how to control costs, and how to find a market niche by growing the right genetics. We have had very positive feedback from farmers and growers who have attended and are always asked for more in depth coverage around business issues such as hemp yields, THC compliance and how to get started.
Beginning 2017 we started an Intern program which will now be made available online. The online program will cover plant breeding, genetics, propagation, field planting and go-to-market market strategies as well as how to navigate the ever evolving State and Federal hemp laws. Courses will cover seasonal topics such as State reporting,, harvesting, drying and processing. We will look at the whole supply chain to determine who is really making money and how to align your business model to be successful.
To attend a Boot Camp or talk to an Agronomist, go here:
Industrial Hemp Goes Big
The excitement around growing Industrial Hemp is building and spreading from state to state as visions of hemp fields flowing over the horizon captures our imagination. Think about it for a minute. For the first time in over 70 years we are attempting to reintroduce a plant once banned and slated for eradication. It never really disappeared though but rather continued to grow in plain sight in the ditch rows of the Midwest farmers fields or in the basements of urban cannabis growers. With hemp products pouring into the US and estimated to be worth nearly $600 million dollars a year farmers are logically asking why not pay our own farmers to grow it?
"Get big or get out" ... Earl Butz, 1970's USDA Secretary
We might want to take a moment though and consider what "Industrializing Hemp" might mean. In 1935 there were 6.8 million farms surrounding small rural towns all across America. Today there are only about 2 million families still farming and their survival is in question. Sixty percent have gross cash income under $10,000 meaning nearly all of them are losing money. Most farmers need to work off-farm jobs just to keep their land. When we mourn the loss of "family values" today we never really think about how we gutted rural America, the birthplace of those values: work hard, play fair and take care of each other and the land.
Today commodity crops such corn, soybeans and wheat are so oversupplied that farm income has dropped over 75% in the last few years! Corn at $3.40 bushel is a losing proposition for all but the largest agribusiness farmer who has connections and contracts. Just 2% of the farms in business today produce over 47% of all the farm production output.
Earl Butz got his wish. We planted fence row to fence row chasing new demand from overseas markets like Russia in 1972, or flawed ethanol policies in the eighties that now consume over 40% of all the corn produced. Incidentally, the net energy we get from ethanol is very close to break even, meaning we put just about as much energy into it in terms of diesel fuel, chemical fertilizers and pesticides as we get out of it mixing it with gasoline and burning it in a car.
Before we "Industrialized" our food system in the seventies "when farmers produced too much and prices began to fall, the government would pay farmers to leave some land fallow with the goal of pushing prices up the following season. When prices threatened to go too high, payments would end and the land would go back into cultivation. The government would also buy excess grain from farmers and store it. In lean years — say, when drought struck — the government would release some of that stored grain, mitigating sudden price hikes. The overall goal was to stop prices from falling too low (hurting farmers) or jumping too high (squeezing consumers). A side goal was to go easy on the land. The New Deal policymakers had seen how high-production agriculture could devastate land’s productivity. The “dust bowl” was a fresh memory." Grist: "The Legacy of Earl Butz"
Now we are ready to go big again but this time with industrial hemp. Before we institutionalize all the incentives and penalties to do it let's consider some possible unintended consequences. Hemp is a wild plant that hasn't been mono-cropped in the US for a long time. What will happen when we plant hundreds, perhaps thousands of acres across a county? How long will it take for it's natural pest resistance to wane? There are plenty of insects that really like cannabis: aphids, root worms, spider mites, grasshoppers and beetles.... Wild Hemp manages just fine but what happens when we crowd it like corn? What about weeds? Are we OK soaking the ground in Glyphosate? Is a GMO Hemp plant coming?
At Chimney Rock Farms we are researching ways to grow hemp without herbicides or pesticides using Integrated Pest Management approaches. In another blog we will discuss growing hemp for CBD by selecting the best seed and regenerating the soil. We believe hemp is a gift to farmers we can either use wisely to heal the land and each other or not and plant it like just another commodity crop that externalizes the costs to future generations. Let's pause for a moment to think it through before we plant fence post to fence post.
Growing Hemp for Flower Indoors
Mother Nature can be pretty tough on farmers. Imagine an entire tomato crop destroyed by hail or your orchard in full bloom wiped out by a late frost. Or worst of all, being forced to let go your trained and trusted crew because winter’s finally here because you can't afford to keep them. Like most farmers, these are problems we face every year. A winter snow storm doesn’t change the fact that people still want local fresh food and CBD treatments. And the end of a growing season doesn’t mean that a farm worker no longer needs an income. In our search for new solutions, we landed on an old idea: growing food year round in greenhouses but wanted to do it without breaking the bank. Our solution was to build super efficient passive solar greenhouses we call the "Chimney Rockhouse" for growing hemp for CBD and full-spectrum cannabinoids.
The Chimney Rockhouse structure is based on an ancient Chinese design requiring significantly less energy to heat to grow cold weather, leafy vegetables and hemp plants. The mountains of Southwest Colorado have a similar climate to parts of northern China so we super-insulated the end walls and used a solid cement block wall as a structural spine. Cement walls, concrete floors and aquaponics water store a lot of heat that is slowly released in the greenhouse moderating temperature swings. The net result is less supplemental heat is required minimizing plant shock .
The unique curved design of the Rockhouse cuts the volume of air to be heated in half while also making temperature regulation more manageable.
In choosing the glazing material for the roof of the Rockhouse we focused on effectiveness and low maintenance. The glazing material transmits 10% more sunlight than glass, promoting faster growth and shorter cycle times. That means larger harvests more often translating into more profit! The glazing material also lasts a very long time, with several greenhouses still performing strong after 40 years! Combine all of this with the fact that the structure is strong enough to withhold a 90 pound snow load, and it’s safe to say that it is the ideal greenhouse for year-round hemp growing in nearly all climates.
It’s important for us to not just grow more plants year-round, but rather to grow the highest-quality hemp plants and advanced seed available on the market going well beyond organic to include sustainable best practices such as renewable energy production. The Chimney Rockhouse easily converts from vegetables to hemp production, giving us a versatility and resiliency rarely seen in traditional farming. Whether we are growing pure hemp for CBD product manufacturers or wholesome food for local grocery stores, the combination of the growing environment merged with our Aquaponics system produces 15-20% more biomass in less time. Photosynthesis in our greenhouse is way above par, due to the curvature of the laminated wood beams which focuses sunlight on the plants much like a parabolic solar collector.
Our staff consists of some of the most highly skilled and motivated folks in the business. Each member of our team plays a vital role in our mission to grow pure food and hemp. Since we are able to farm year-round thanks to the Rockhouse design, we are also able to keep our staff employed and busy all winter. Our ability to maintain a tight-knit crew means we benefit from greater teamwork resulting in more productivity later in the summer months.
Our Rockhouses are not just for winter growing. The passive venting system also allows us to keep the greenhouse cooler during the hot summer months to increase our genetic selection process throughout the year. We look forward to combining our greenhouses and field trials to develop the finest hemp strains available on the market.
Interested in a Farm Tour? Click here:
Growing Hemp for CBD: Saving Family Farming
A health revolution is underway challenging the very faith we place in our food and health care systems we depend on. This revolution has been going on for some time now and many lives have been lost due to our inability to understand how our bodies and the natural world actually work. For example, in 1799 George Washington developed a throat infection and his physician performed the standard procedure of the day by blood-letting in an attempt to cure him until he eventually bled to death. Likewise, by the nineteen thirties farmers, who had been encouraged by the US government to grow more wheat, plowed their fields under in the fall and left them barren until spring to get even bigger harvests until a massive drought caused the Dust Bowl blowing away much of America’s best top soil.
We constantly hear the argument that industrial scale farming, or health care, for that matter is needed to "feed or save our world", but is it true? After 30 years as a manufacturing and supply chain executive I had contributed plenty to that belief; bigger was better and more efficient was always more profitable. After buying tons of aluminum, copper, plastic, computer chips, and disk drives I was a believer; then came the dot com bust, 9/11 and the financial crises and I began to question what was wrong with that belief?
I decided to try something different so I bought a farm, not a Zoo mind you, but an organic vegetable farm and fruit orchard and started down the path of trying grow better food on a more local scale.
This blog will explore how food and hemp are grown, how they are distributed and what happens to our environment, our health and our security when we farm the way we do. We are also going to talk about energy to determine if our fossil fuel driven agricultural system is sustainable or not. We are going to talk about the climate and yes “Climate Change” and how it will it change farming forever.
We would like to invite you to join us here at Chimney Rock Farms as we try to answer these questions and more. Our goal is to help others considering hemp farming by learning from our success and our failures and by producing the highest quality hemp seeds for sale. We believe it is important now, more than ever, to “Know Your Grower” so you can make informed choices about the products you buy. Consider this invitation your “backstage pass” into learning how pure food and hemp can be grown and what to look for in your own journey towards better health.
So, Let’s Get Growing…