Growing organic hemp seems like it would be a no-brainer. After all, hemp “grows like a weed” right? It should be easy to grow without special chemicals or added fertilizer, right? Wrong. At least if you want to make a profit on your hemp crop.
Now, growing hemp organically can be rewarding — financially and for the sake of your land and product. But growing organic hemp, despite what is sometimes rumored, is not easy. In fact, it can take more planning and foresight than growers that rely on non-organic products, although the rewards in the end often more than offset the extra time put in at the beginning.
Here’s three tips from Colorado Breeders Depot to Grow Organic Hemp crop. Plus, one big mistake to avoid!
Hemp is considered a “heavy feeding” crop, like corn. To perform to its potential, it needs ample amounts of available nutrients through its lifecycle.
Non-organic growers can make up for a lack of critical nutrients with fast-acting chemical fertilizer applications. Organic growers have access to organic soil inputs and fertilizers, but typically they are not as fast-acting as chemical fertilizers. This means, it is crucial that organic hemp growers have a fertility plan in place long before their crop goes in.
Start with identifying your hemp field, ideally at least a year before you plan to plant into it. Take a soil sample, so you understand what your nutrient and micronutrients levels are to start with. From there, create a plan with a hemp consultant, like Colorado Breeders Depot, to maximize your soil fertility specifically for hemp production. You might need to add inputs like sulfur or calcium. Or spread compost or plant a series of cover crops to improve your soil fertility and tilth.
The goal is to start planning your soil fertility long before you actually plant your field into hemp. The last thing you want to be doing is attempting to adjust a fertility issue while your crop is growing.
Many hemp growers (organic or not) have good luck with a mid-season organic foliar fertilizer application — fish emulsion is popular amongst many hemp growers — to support healthy growth. But it is important to have a plan in place (plus products purchased and application measures already planned) for a mid-season fertilizing application before you realize you need it. Every day is critical for optimal growth for your organic hemp crop.
Whether you are growing organically or not, healthy transplants are a given. But, organic growers don’t have much lee-way to adjust for anything less than thriving transplants. The good strategy for a healthy organic hemp grow is avoiding any stress on your plants which can then leave your crop open to disease or pest outbreaks. That starts right from the beginning with your transplants.
Your organic hemp transplants should be well-rooted, but not root bound. Look for green, healthy, actively growing transplants, not ones with yellowing leaves or showing signs of stress or disease (toss those out rather than plant them). Make sure when you plant your transplants are given immediate access to adequate water and fertilizer. The more you can reduce the stress on your young hemp seedlings, the healthier crop you’ll have.
Frequent scouting for the start of any pest or disease outbreaks is crucial for an organic hemp crop.
Because you have less access to non-organic solutions, it is imperative you head off a problem before it gets established. By scouting frequently, you can often isolate (and destroy) diseased or infected plants before they spread. Or, you can target specific hotspot outbreaks with organic control measures that may be difficult to perform over the entire crop.
Also, sometimes you can head off a disease outbreak by adjusting other crop inputs. Perhaps you decide to skip irrigating for a week because you notice a mildew issue starting. The first step, however, is frequent scouting and staying on top of problems when they are first starting rather than noticing them when they have taken over.
Hemp growers often decide to grow their crop organically because they believe in organic (versus non-organic) practices and because organically-grown hemp typically captures a higher market price. Many consumers, looking to use hemp products for health and wellness, prefer an organic product because they believe it is more likely to support their well-being.
But, too often organic hemp growers make this crucial mistake — they don’t get their hemp crop organic certified.
If you don’t get your crop organic certified you cannot, legally, advertise, sell or promote your crop as “organic.” Under the auspices of the National Organic Program (NOP) any crop that is advertised as organic must have received organic certification. If you falsely represent your crop as organic by calling it organic — even if you followed all organic practices — you can be subject to fines of nearly $18,000 per violation.
This can be confusing to many growers, but essentially the NOP owns the term “organic” for marketing purposes and if you want to use it to sell your product, you must go through the certification process. If you would rather not get certified, you can still promote your hemp crop using similar terms, like “grown with natural products” just not “organic.”
Despite some confusion, hemp is indeed certifiable with the NOP. To get information on how to get your crop organic certified, visit your state department of agriculture for information on their organic certification process. You will have to maintain your records to be reviewed by your certifier. Also, you cannot use any products that have not been pre-approved for use through the organic program standards, as well as meet other NOP standards including planting into land that has been organic certified. Land that has been used for non-organic farming cannot be certified as organic for three years after conventional practices have stopped.
Some hemp growers are already following organic practices, but not certified. They simply haven’t gotten certified for growing methods they are already using. Or they might need to just make a few changes to their process to qualify for organic certification. In that case, get in touch with your state organic certifier and see if you can take advantage of the marketing boost organic certification will give your crop.
A certified, official organic seal on your hemp crop can capture a higher market value and gives you an advantage over the non-organic competition.
Colorado Breeders Depot is happy to provide more information on how to implement organic growing practice, and make sure you make the most out of the increased market value of an organic hemp crop.
We evaluate, consult and advise our growers all the way through the process from assessing the market potential and risk, to teaching you how to grow hemp. Helping our customers have an excellent hemp harvest is what we’re all about. Phone – (719) 275-7770. Email – Info@ColoradoBreedersDepot.com.