The most important thing for North Carolina farmers who are interested in growing industrial hemp to do is to turn to a professional crop consultant or other expert who actually has knowledge and experience with growing crops in North Carolina.
“If I was growing hemp, I would get one of y’all in this room to look at it. There are a lot of people getting advice from people calling themselves ‘hemp experts.’ They would be better off getting advice from people like you who have experience with agriculture,” says Dr. Keith Edmisten, speaking to the annual meeting of the North Carolina Agricultural Consultants Association at the Homewood Suites Hotel in Raleigh.
Edmisten is the North Carolina State University Extension cotton specialist who has taken on added duties as industrial hemp specialist in the state. He has been involved in education and research on hemp since it was approved to be grown in the state in 2017.
In 2018, 325 farmers received licenses to grow hemp from the North Carolina Industrial Hemp Commission; that’s more than triple the number licensed in 2017.
Edmisten says that many of the so called “experts” are giving bad advice to hemp growers. He says they often peddle such untruths that hemp doesn’t need water, doesn’t need fertilizer and doesn’t have pests or diseases.
“Hemp doesn’t defy the laws of biology or physics. It needs water. It has pests; it has a lot of pests. And it does need fertilizer,” Edmisten told the gathering of North Carolina crop consultants, many who are working with hemp farmers across the state.
North Carolina State is recommending hemp farmers apply 100 units of nitrogen per acre to their hemp crop. And while fertility is important, it’s not the most important thing to consider when growing hemp. Edmisten says other good crop management practices are vital.
In 2018, hemp growers who had problems with the crop often blamed fertility as the culprit. Edmisten believes challenges growers faced may have actually gone beyond fertility to disease pressure and problems brought on by excess moisture during the growing season.
“The good thing is the data we have suggests that excess nitrogen in hemp does not cause problems like in tobacco. But fertility is the least of our worries. Hemp does have pests; it has diseases,” Edmisten says.
Edmisten says there was a lot of disease pressure in hemp in 2018. In working with hemp growers and visiting their farms, Edmisten said fusarium blight, stem canker and Southern blight were the most common disease problems he encountered. There are many other diseases that hemp is susceptible to, including nematodes.
Worms are also a problem in hemp. “I don’t know if there is worm that doesn’t like hemp, but certainly bollworms do,” Edmisten says.
Edmisten notes that hemp is a good fit for tobacco farmers. Like tobacco, hemp is planted from transplants from the greenhouse to the field. “Tobacco farmers have transplant equipment and are used to this system of growing crops, Edmisten says.
However, he emphasizes that unlike tobacco plants taken from float houses to the field where the roots disintegrate quickly and then make new root systems, the roots of hemp plans taken from the greenhouse do not disintegrate quickly and make new root systems.
“Hopefully, this year people will be paying attention to how long they’re leaving those plants in the green house and try to do a little bit better job of timing those plants to come out of the greenhouse and go to the field before they become root bound, Edmisten says.
“I’m hoping once we learn how long to keep those plants before you transplant them and how to keep them from getting root bound, that we will have less disease. The wet weather and some of the environmental conditions contributed to it too,” he adds.
In addition, planting date is important in hemp. “Hemp is a short-day plant, like soybeans. Once day length starts getting shorter after June 21, at some point, depending on the variety, that’s going to trigger flowering,” he explains.
Edmisten advises farmers to plant hemp no later than the end of May or early June. “If you’re going to plant one of these varieties that flower quickly, you probably need to plant in April or early May, so you can get bigger plants,” he says.
Most farmers in North Carolina are growing hemp for the CBD oil or Cannabidiol market. Edmisten says farmers who plan to grow hemp should line up someone to sell the crop to.
“Most growers are going to be signing contracts and selling to someone who has an extraction facility,” he explains.
A list of potential hemp processors is available at the NCDA&CS site: https://www.ncagr.gov/hemp/.
A list of clone and seed sources, as well as other hemp information, is available at: https://industrialhemp.ces.ncsu.edu/.
On hand for the 2018 meeting of the North Carolina Agricultural Consultants Association at the Homewood Suites Hotel in Raleigh were Brad Ahderhold, left, executive director of NACA, and Danny Pierce, a consultant and owner of Crop Management Services in Princeton, N.C.
Terri Thomas, left, a consultant and owner of Ag-Con, Inc. in Tarboro, N.C., discusses peanut disease control methods, with Dr. Barbara Shew, director of the plant disease and insect research clinic and research assistant professor at North Carolina State University, during the 2018 meeting of the North Carolina Agricultural Consultants Association at the Homewood Suites Hotel in Raleigh.