What Equipment Do You Need to Grow Hemp?
If you’re considering growing hemp for the first time, don’t forget to think long and hard about what sort of equipment you need to grow hemp successfully.
The answer? It depends.
Before Buying Hemp Equipment, What Do You Already Have?
After 80-plus years of hep prohibition, it is fair to say that most hemp growers considering the market today have never grown hemp before. However, there are lots of farmers with plenty of experience growing other crops.
What sort of previous operation and experience you already have is an essential factor in deciding what kind of equipment to purchase for hemp growing, especially in your first season. As many hemp growers learned since legalization in 2018, it is better to start small with hemp while getting a feel for the crop and the market.
Have You been Growing Grain, Corn, or Field Beans?
If you are used to farming large acreage in grains or corn, think about growing a fiber hemp crop or a tri-crop varietal. You’ll probably already have much of the equipment you need to do so. These crops are grown for their seed (grain), fiber, and potentially, in the case of tri-crop varietals, CBD biomass. This type of hemp typically doesn’t bring the high sales potential that growing high CBD hemp for biomass only or smokable hemp can. However, it can be much cheaper and easier to grow, resulting in a higher profit when expenses are accounted for.
For more things to consider when growing fiber hemp check out our blog post – Three Things to Consider Before Planting Fiber Hemp.
Fiber and tri-crop hemp is grown similar to corn or grain, direct-seeded and drilled densely into prepared fields, then managed with minimal weed control during the season (a good stand is usually sufficient to out-compete weeds).
Harvest of seed may be possible with retro-fitted adjusted combine you already have. You may be able to bale fiber or biomass using existing haylage and bailing equipment. That said, some equipment used for other crops can be made to work and others can’t. It all depends on what your harvesting for and the quality of your harvest.
Many new combining and harvest solutions are coming into the market rapidly for hemp growers. After you assess what you already have and how you plan to grow, it is worth looking at the options available specifically for the hemp harvest. You can also contract for harvest or lease one of the new hemp-specific harvesters rather than spending the money to invest in one yourself. This can make sense when you are first starting and getting an understanding of the crop and before making a large equipment investment.
Are You Set Up for Specialty Crop Production?
If you’re a specialty crop grower, you are probably already in possession of a plastic-mulch layer, a transplanter, irrigation supplies, cultivation equipment, and have greenhouse facilities. In this case, you maybe be well suited for growing high-cannabinoid hemp either for a high-quality biomass harvest of smokable hemp.
High cannabinoid hemp is grown to maximize flower bud production. That means much more space (typically around 3’ in-row and 4’ on center beds) than when growing for fiber or tri-crop hemp. You will also need to have weed management, fertilizing, and irrigation plans to produce a high-quality, high-cannabinoid hemp crop. And the ability and greenhouse space to grow your starts or have a place to hold them if you purchase them.
Most CBD growers planting outside are planting into plastic mulch beds to control weeds and use bed shapers, plastic mulch layers, and transplanters used interchangeably for specialty crop production like vegetables. Another option is mulching heavily between beds or interplanting with low-growing cover crops. All these strategies are aimed at weed control and will be familiar to specialty crop producers. Just keep in mind that only a few chemicals are currently approved for use in hemp production and CBD buyers are very wary of any pesticide or herbicide residues in COA’s at harvest time).
Do You Need a Greenhouse to Grow Hemp?
A greenhouse is very useful for high cannabinoid growers for starting your transplants or holding ones you ordered in before you are ready to plant. If you are growing primarily for the smaller but (potentially) more smokable hemp, many hemp growers say a greenhouse is essential. With a few exceptions, it is hard to have the perfect outdoor conditions to favor the high-quality bud the smokable hemp market demands.
Most of the excellent quality smokable hemp is moving to greenhouse-grown conditions where the weather can be controlled! However, a useful smokable hemp greenhouse is not a cheap plastic tunnel laid over a few bamboo hoops. You’ll need to invest in a high-tech greenhouse with fans, dehumidifiers, heat, lights, irrigation, and a system for plant support, at the least.
Do You Have a Drying Facility for Your Hemp?
Another primary consideration when it comes to hemp equipment is how you will cure and dry it. Again, what you plan to harvest your crop for will make a difference in what you need for drying capacity.
Good quality smokable hemp is typically hung to be dried in covered, well-aerated buildings. Good climate and moisture control and air movement are critical. There are increasingly more drying and trimming innovations on the market but be careful not to be sucked into a promise for a “quick-drying” solution that ends up creating an inadequate or inferior product.
There are also dryers to run biomass through. This can be critical if your biomass comes in wet and it needs to be store for some time before going to the lab. Too wet biomass can spoil and ferment, leaving you with nothing for your efforts. There are plenty of other smaller needs for hemp growing when it comes to equipment, from harvest knives and weeding tools to tables and growing supplies for transplant production, but this gives you a general overview.
Start with what you already have and what sort of hemp crop it makes sense for you to grow. Think about how that equipment can be utilized in your hemp crop and go from there, filling in the gaps where you have them.
If you’re considering grow hemp for the first time, don’t forget to think long and hard about what sort of equipment you need to grow hemp successfully.