Fostering Land Stewardship In Hemp Cultivation

July 13, 2020
Land stewardship in hemp cultivation

Land Stewardship In Hemp Cultivation

After nearly a century of prohibition, hemp farming was finally made legal again in Colorado in 2013. Since that moment, hemp farm acreage has grown from “not really a thing” to encompassing nearly 465,000 acres... and the industry is still in its infancy. 

Any market with that kind of growth rate is bound to have some issues. Systems don’t optimize themselves, after all. And every season, as more fundamentals come into place, farmers are discovering increasingly innovative ways to maximize land use when harvesting hemp.

At the center of it all is land stewardship, a critical part of hemp cultivation. 

Land stewardship goes beyond the “how” of what to do for a good crop, and defines the bigger “why” behind sustainable agricultural practices. Land stewardship is a fundamentally ethical approach to preserving your land over time which also ensures the ongoing quality of your product. Everyone wins, from the consumer to the farmer to the Earth itself.

Land Stewardship Is An Investment

Some of the details may seem complex but the big ideas are easy to understand. Take care of the soil and the land itself as a whole system, conserve resources, maintain biodiversity, and the land and the soil will return dividends. 

More than anything else, proper stewardship is an investment. But it goes beyond just thinking about the soil as a bank account. 

Sure, soil amendments and even the seeds themselves are deposits, and the plants you grow are a kind of withdrawal, but there’s a much larger economy in the ecosystem itself. The amendments, the use of beneficial organisms, combinations of different complementary species of plants (things like beans, corn, and squash planted together for example), control of water quality and erosion… with so many factors that can impact the long term health of the soil and land, there’s a lot to keep track of. 

Assuming you have the fundamental inputs in place, let’s start thinking about some of the outputs. Here’s 4 starting points to consider: 

  1. How many hemp plants should be in an acre?
  2. How long does it take to grow hemp?
  3. How much CBD is produced per acre of hemp?
  4. What are the growing conditions?

How Many Hemp Plants Should Be In An Acre?

Farmers growing hemp for CBD usually plant between 1,000 and 3,500 plants per acre. The range depends upon the variety of hemp and the cultivation process itself. The spacing of the plants, one of many variables that control the CBD yield per acre, depends upon the labor involved in cultivation. 

Plants that are more spaced out allow for easier access in cultivation. At first this may seem like a recipe for a lower yield, but more spacing allows for more light, which increases the amount of CBD per plant. Dense canopies can also lead to all kinds of disease problems, mainly due to lack of airflow, so finding the balance here is key.

If you’re following the principles of good land stewardship, you’ll recognize that there’s give and take in every system. Trying to cram as many plants in each acre as possible might seem like a good idea at first, but ultimately is not very sustainable for a variety of reasons. 

Think about what’s sustainable, about what will keep the whole system intact and provide dividends over the coming decades, not just the next harvest, and you’ll find that balance.

How Long Should It Take To Grow Hemp? 

The typical hemp growth cycle is completed at 60-90 days. It’s best to cut the plant immediately after it flowers. Keep in mind that a feminized crop should never produce seeds. The females are the heavy oil producers, so proper growing for CBD should only be using females.

The timing of harvesting is dependent upon the strain, but usually includes planting in the spring and harvesting in the fall. If you’re growing indoors or in a greenhouse, you can create overlapping grow cycles year-round. This is more expensive than using the land, and involves less “stewardship”, of course, but there’s plenty of farmers who have diversified, and have both options.

How Much CBD Is Produced Per Acre of Hemp? 

Depending on what strain you plant, you can quickly do some back-of-the-napkin math here. 

The calculation for CBD per acre has a number of variables: growing conditions, plant genetics, inputs like fertilizers and soil amendments, pest pressure, IPM, plant date. Let’s simplify this with some basic starting points.

Keep in mind that CBD actually starts with a slightly different molecule: CBDa. It takes a process called decarboxylation to convert CBDa to CBD. Before we can calculate the amount of CBD per acre, we need to know how much CBDa is present.  

Say you have 1600 plants per acre at your farm. Here’s a simple formula you can use to get a basic idea of the amount of CBDa you may have on your hands: 

{# plants per acre at your farm} * {# grams biomass yield per plant} * {potency of CBDa in percent of weight per plant} = grams CBDa per acre.

Using this formula, if you had 1600 plants per acre on 5 acres, based on the genetic profile of the strain you planted you could expect to get about 227 grams (½ lb) of biomass per plant at a potency of about 15% CBDa. 

In action, it might look like this:

{1600 plants} * {227g biomass yield per plant} * {15% CBDa potency} = 54.4 kg CBDa per acre. 

After decarboxylation, which typically creates a loss of 13.3% of CBD, this would result in a roughly 47.7 kg of CBD.

Of course this all depends on having a reliable way of knowing how many grams of extract can be expected to yield from the genetics and soil you’ve selected, and at what potency.

If it seems overwhelming, well that’s because for many, it is. 

That’s why NuSachi made a decision early on to start with the genetics and the soil, do the hardest things first, and pull together a team of world class experts who can advise our clients and partners in best practices, help them become organic compliant, and partner with them to grow their businesses. 

Hemp Growing Conditions 

Should you grow indoors, outdoors, or in a greenhouse? It all depends on a variety of factors, including desired end product, so let’s think of it from the hemp plant’s perspective. What kinds of conditions do the plants love the most?

Hemp can grow pretty much anywhere, aside from extreme environments like the desert or the top of a mountain. But that doesn’t mean it thrives everywhere. 

The best place for hemp is a warm environment, not too wet, with well balanced nutrient rich soil that’s well drained. Depending on where you live, these conditions may already exist, but the weather can change…. So we often create these conditions indoors, or in a greenhouse, depending on the specific needs of a given strain.

In a perfect world, every hemp farmer would have the exact conditions they need to be successful. The weather would cooperate with our needs, we’d find a balance with nature, or we’d have a combo of different environments depending on what kinds of outputs we wanted to have: industrial hemp, lifestyle focused products, or medical grade hemp and CBD outputs. 

Ask For Help If You Need It

If all of this seems a bit overwhelming, or if you’ve discovered that really, you don’t have the fundamental inputs of proper land stewardship, and actually, you don’t have the groundwork laid for a well planned grow operation, you’re not the only one. 

There’s a lot of folks jumping into the hemp cultivation space right now and we have a team of seasoned expert growers, cultivators, processors, and product formulators, who can help get you where you need to be. 

When you’re ready to talk to a NuSachi Growth Advisor about growing your business, we’re here for you. Fill out the form and book a call, let’s talk.

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