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Testing your hemp crop isn’t only legally required, it is essential for a profitable crop. But first, you need to know when, how, and what to test for, and it isn’t just THC!
When hemp was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill they did so with one major provision — hemp is only considered “hemp” if it is under .3 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Anything over .3 percent THC is considered marijuana and you will be forced to destroy your crop if it tests above .3 percent.
Yes, growers and hemp organizations are continuing to push back against the .3 percent rule. It is especially frustrating since the .3 percent limit which was not chosen for any specific purpose. It actually started out of a Canadian study into the cannabis plant that chose the .3 percent limit as an arbitrary number to distinguish between hemp and cannabis in their research.
Unfortunately, that .3 percent figure became adopted, and even though even the USDA admits that there are many outside factors (like stress) that can cause a hemp crop to “go hot” there is nothing they can do about it because it is a statutory issue. The law says .3 percent so until Congress decides to readdress that issue, hemp growers are stuck with it.
That’s (partly) why testing is so very important. Hemp growers are legally required to provide a COA (certificate of analysis) to sell their crops. But testing can also be used to help manage your crop for the best yield and provide the data you need to make even more profitable choices in future years. Testing is legally required, yes, but it is also a useful tool for smart hemp growers.
Always start at your state level. Though states are required to follow, at a minimum, the federal standards on testing, many states have opted for more rigorous testing requirements.
Some states require QR codes that allow customers to look up COA’s and check potency. Or, a state might require where and how to test, or how to package your final product with test results.
The bottom line, your state agricultural department is your first source for learning all about the requirements in your neck of the woods. The state can also be a great resource for finding reputable labs to send your tests to and might be able to provide best practice guidelines, so don’t hesitate to learn about their resources.
This might seem confusing, but you actually should test your soil before you plant a single hemp start into it. Actually, a soil test should be required before you even consider a particular field for a plant crop.
Why? Well, hemp has phytoremediation properties. That means, the plant actually sucks up heavy metals and toxins out of the soil. Which is a pretty cool thing when you are thinking about ways to repair toxified soils. But it is a less cool thing when those heavy metals (like arsenic, cadmium, or mercury) show up in alarming numbers on your hemp flower COA. Remember, many people use hemp and hemp-derived properties for health benefits, the last thing they want to be doing is ingesting arsenic with their high-CBD smokable hemp flower!
Beyond checking for concerning heavy metals in your soil, a pre-planting soil test also provides a baseline of your soil fertility, PH, and micronutrient levels which will be helpful in creating a nutritional plan for your hemp grow.
As your hemp crop grows and flowering begins, CBD and other cannabinoids will slowly increase over time. At a certain point, THC will also start to spike up rapidly. Keeping a close eye on the rate of increase in your CBD percentages versus THC will help you decide when is the best time to harvest your crop that maximizes cannabinoids but doesn’t risk going hot.
Some growers test once a week. Others test every 10 days but then increase to twice a week once flowering starts. Ultimately, how often you test depends on you. However, you decide to do it, make sure to keep careful records because the information you gather in year one will be a baseline of data going forward. The more information you have and the more knowledgeable decisions you will be able to make in the future.
Hopefully, your preharvest testing has given you a good baseline for the rate of rising in your cannabinoids. Before you harvest, however, you’ll want to test for potency. At this point, you need to keep in mind how you are planning to harvest.
If you are planning to chop and send your biomass off, this means all flowers, stems, and leaves will be included in the test. This will lower your CBD percentages (because most of the CBD Is in the flower buds). This might be good if you are worried about going hot, however, many processors won’t take biomass under a certain CBD percentage. If you wait until after you harvest harvested to send for a test and it comes in at a low CBD percentage point, you might end up with a crop nobody will buy.
On the other hand, testing just your flowers will give you the highest CBD percentage, but also let you know if you are on the border of going hot. A right-before harvest test will help you make the most profitable harvest decisions.
After harvest, you’ll want to test for potency, moisture levels, pesticide residues as well as terpene profile. Potency can shift during storage, especially depending on how you are drying and storing your hemp, so keeping an eye on levels will give you a more accurate measure of where you’re at and help make better decisions in the future. Moisture levels should be under 12 percent, or you risk bacteria, mold, and fungal outbreaks. And getting a good idea of your final terpene level can help sell your product.
Finally, your hemp has been harvested, dried, processed, and/or trimmed. Before you either send it to the lab for CBD extraction or start packaging it up to sell, you’ll want a final, full panel test. This is the final proof of the quality (and safety) of your hemp.
At this point, you are again testing for potency, but also for any microbial agents (like dangerous mycotoxins) in the hemp. As well as pesticides and heavy metals.
The bottom line, testing is integral to a quality, safe, and legal hemp crop. It can be confusing as far as when to test for, what to test for at what point, and how to use the information you get from your tests to make informed decisions. At Colorado Breeders Depot we offer free farm consultation for any hemp grower that purchases our seeds. We can help you figure out how, when, and why to test your hemp crop. Don’t be afraid to reach out, helping our customers have a great hemp harvest is what we’re all about. Phone – (719) 275-7770. Email – Info@ColoradoBreedersDepot.com.