The 2018 Farm Bill significantly changed the regulation of hemp that is grown, processed, and sold in the United States. The latest farm legislation differentiates hemp cannabis varieties used in products including oilseeds, fiber, and food from varieties that contain the hallucinogen THC— which are still illegal under federal law enforced by the DEA. Changes to the law specified within the Farm Bill allows for the cultivation and sale of hemp products following a USDA-approved program implemented by the Montana Department of Agriculture.
Which is to say, no, you are not growing marijuana. Hemp is a unique cash crop harvested for multiple uses including grain, fiber, and flower. IND HEMP is focusing on working with farmers who are interested in growing hemp for grain and fiber production, not biomass or CBD production. This type of production allows growers to utilize existing equipment similar to what is needed to plant and harvest a wheat crop.
Hemp that is grown for grain typically has appropriate genetic traits that result in a shorter stature. These plants produce a more uniform appearance that is better suited to being harvested with a combine. Hemp is a dioecious plant, meaning there will be separate male and female plants. It is also daylight sensitive and will initiate flowering once the day length reaches 12 hours or less.
Although it is now legal to produce hemp, farmers will be required to obtain a hemp-producers license from the Department of Agriculture and comply with rules under individual State Hemp Programs. Individual farmers must apply for their hemp license to become an authorized producer in the state. More information and the application for the license can be found on the Montana Department of Agriculture website.
The foundation for any fertility program should focus on creating healthy soils where nutrients are cycled efficiently and effectively within the soil profile. Hemp plants maximize their energy production and usage when they are obtaining their nutrients in the form of microbial metabolites that release from microorganisms. Green manure/cover crops, organic fertilizers such as hydrolyzed fish, manure applications, and reduced chemical usage can result in soils that can support high yielding crops without an excess of outside inputs.
Nutrient recommendations when growing hemp for grain are comparable to wheat fertility programs, wherein crops need an estimated 120 lb. Nitrogen, 30-50 lb. Phosphorus, 15-30 lb. Sulfur, micronutrients & potassium when deficient.
There is a misconception that hemp can grow on marginal soils and still produce viable yields. While hemp can be a very hardy crop with good drought tolerance, it will show remarkable gains when planted into clean fields consisting of healthy soils with adequate fertility levels.
Growing a green manure/cover crop in the year before planting hemp can provide an organic source of nitrogen as well as increase the nutrient cycling ability of the soil. Currently, there are no herbicides listed for use in hemp production, so proper field selection with minimal past weed pressure is highly recommended, along with adequate weed suppression techniques such as crop rotation and cover cropping.
Although hemp’s natural canopied leaves help with weed control, weed management is an essential factor in the success of your crop. Weed management begins by selecting fields that have had relatively low weed pressure in past seasons and planting into those fields with little to no actively growing weeds.
You want your hemp plants thriving until a complete canopy is established, with the goal being to shade out most weeds before they become a competitor. A great way to control fall weeds is to broadcast a cover crop into standing hemp before harvest. That way, when the grain crop comes out of the field, there will already be an actively growing crop established that can outcompete weeds that would otherwise germinate and grow in the fall months. This practice can also contribute to increased soil fertility for next year’s crop.
Like most plants, hemp grows best on fertile loam soils with good structure, a pH of 6-7.5, and organic matter at 3.5% or above. The key to maximizing any crop, including hemp, is having optimal soil biology and a balance of soil minerals so that the plant receives all of the nutrients it requires without being overloaded by excess applications of fertilizer.
Soil testing is key to determining what nutrients your soils contain in adequate amounts, and which nutrients it may be deficient in. By only supplementing the nutrients that are needed, you save money and maximize your plant growth. You can utilize composite samples that represent similar soil types in 50-100 acre sections.
Here are some helpful videos going into much more detail on all your agronomy questions:
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Growers: to discuss what hemp production on your Montana, Idaho, Washington, or Oregon farm can do for you, visit here.